Leah H. Somerville joined the faculty of Harvard University in July of 2012, as Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Director of the newly launched Affective Neuroscience and Development Laboratory. The laboratory’s research is focused on understanding developmental changes in the brain’s emotion processing and regulation circuitry throughout adolescence. In addition to tracking structural and functional brain changes, the lab’s research tests how these changes uniquely influence adolescent emotional sensitivity, social behavior, and decision-making. A long-term objective of the lab is to inform a potential linkage between adolescent-specific emotional changes, brain functioning, and the tendency for psychiatric illnesses to initially emerge during the second decade of life.
After earning a Bachelors of Science degree in Psychology summa cum laude at the University of Wisconsin, Leah joined the PhD program in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College where she earned a PhD in 2008. Leah’s PhD thesis addressed how individual differences in anxiety influence physiological and neural processing of threatening and unpredictable information. This work earned her the Hannah Croasdale Graduate Scholar Award, a college-wide award given to the graduating PhD recipient who best exemplifies the qualities of a scholar.
Following 5 years in the woods of New Hampshire, Leah relocated to the concrete jungle of New York City where she completed a four-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. There she had the unique opportunity to apply her expertise in the brain’s emotional circuitry to study a population of longstanding interest: teenagers. Given that adolescence is a time of life associated with a wide range of emotional and social changes, Leah’s postdoctoral studies focused on informing the relationship between functional brain development and common shifts in emotional and social behavior during the second decade of life. In 2010, Leah was awarded a five-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (K99R00) that supported research training in New York and will support her independent research efforts at Harvard until 2015.
Leah’s research has been published in numerous scientific journals including Science, Nature Neuroscience, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Biological Psychiatry. In 2011, her neurodevelopmental research earned her the Samuel W. Perry III, MD Distinguished Award in Psychiatric Medicine from Cornell and Columbia Universities. Leah is thrilled to join the Harvard community and looks forward to teaching at undergraduate and graduate levels. She also plans to team up with Boston area middle schools and high schools to conduct outreach activities focused on getting adolescents excited about science.