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Hillary Wadsworth: Motivation on a Molecular Level

An illustration of three brains

Hillary Wadsworth (NEURO ’24) is passionate about helping others achieve their goals. As a graduate student working on research with undergraduates, she understands it's her responsibility to cheer them on in all their endeavors. “One of the biggest motivations with my students is to offer them every opportunity possible," she says. "I want them to have a good experience in the lab, just like I did as an undergraduate."

When Wadsworth was an undergraduate student in BYU's neuroscience program, she loved working in labs and learning patch clamp electrophysiology, a technology that uses patches to measure energy currents in cells. She helped graduate students with their research analyses and co-authored a few publications. Now, she’s three years into her neuroscience PhD and is conducting research on the immune system and how it affects motivation on a molecular level.

Wadsworth chose her research topic because of her interest in medication. She read dozens of papers and eventually fell down the rabbit hole of microglia, resident brain cells that regulate brain development in the nucleus accumbens region, an area of the brain associated with motivation and reward. She observes how the microglia respond to activity in the nucleus accumbens. “I remember thinking, oh my gosh, the immune system is incredible,” Wadsworth says about researching microglia. “I’m really interested in figuring out some of the mysteries [about the immune system] that we just don’t know yet.”

illustrated brain and neuron

Though Wadsworth enjoys her time in the lab, she has a vibrant and busy life outside of school. She comes from a family of eight children, seven of which are girls. She’s also an identical twin. BYU blood runs strong in her family, as all her siblings and both parents attended. Wadsworth’s mom was even a professor of ethics in human resources and the department chair of BYU’s Masters of Public Administration program. Wadsworth says her family gets along pretty well, despite there being so many of them. Almost all her siblings are married with kids, so it’s always a busy and enjoyable time when they get to see each other.

If Wadsworth could be anywhere after the school day ends, it would be Disney World. But on an average day, you can find her reading, going to the gym, playing board games with friends or taking a walk if the weather is nice. Wadsworth plans on being a postdoctoral researcher after graduating next year. “A postdoc will mean I go to work with a professor and help them run their lab,” says Wadsworth.

Wadsworth graduates in 2024, and we can look forward to seeing her do great things.