School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Maeve McMahon


PhD student



Project title: Does operant conditioning alter neurogenomic response to song presentation?

Summary: As a member of Prof. David Clayton's lab, Maeve studies the effect of experience on gene expression in the zebra finch brain.

Collaborating with Prof. dr. Carel ten Cate at Leiden University, she trained zebra finches to discriminate between two birdsongs using Go/No-Go operant conditioning. During training, the birds learn to associate Song A with pecking a button to receive a food reward, and to associate Song B with not pecking a button lest they receive a mild punishment of the lights turning off. Following training, the birds are played either Song A or Song B.

Following these song presentations, Maeve investigates the neurogenomic response using in situ hybridisation and she plans to use image analysis techniques that do not make assumptions about neuroanatomical region boundaries.

With Dr. Robert Lachlan and Dr. Julia George, Maeve has also been involved in the development of the Operanter system, which includes open-source software for controlling operant conditioning designed to run on a Raspberry Pi computer. The Operanter system also consists of hardware that is controlled by the Raspberry Pi and that interfaces with the birds (i.e. switches for birds to peck at, motorised food hoppers, etc...). Operanter can be found at