Breaking Ground in the Field of Neuroscience

As an avid surfer, hiker and skier Joshua Johansen, grew up enjoying the ocean and the mountains of California. From kindergarten to 5th grade he attended Highland Hall, then transferred to Santa Cruz Waldorf School and returned for 11th & 12th grades at Highland Hall. After graduation Joshua attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where he majored in psychology and graduated magna cum laude. He then pursued his Ph.D. at UCLA in the field of neuroscience and did a postdoctoral fellowship at NYU.

Since 2012 Josh has been working in Japan at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute as the head of the Laboratory for the Neural Circuitry of Memory. The primary focus of Dr. Johansen's work is studying how aversive or unpleasant experiences trigger alterations in the brain circuits underlying memory formation. "Ordinary experiences like walking down the street we do not remember. However, some memories, such as being attacked by a dog (or hair raising explosions in high school chemistry classes with Mr. Ridenauer), are burned into our brains and stay with us for our entire lives." Understanding how the brain stores some experiences as memory while ignoring others and how brain dysfunction can give rise to psychiatric disorders are central goals of his research.

Dr. Johansen credits Highland Hall and his Waldorf education with providing him a different way of thinking about the world. "In my work as a scientist, I'm at the frontier of knowledge where important advances are made through creativity and independent thinking." As a Waldorf student Josh says he was challenged to think for himself in a similar way. "Creating my own main lesson books rather than simply absorbing textbook knowledge was a critical part of my education and has translated well into a career in science."

Josh lives in Tokyo with his wife and two children and enjoys cooking, traveling and being a soccer dad.