University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Psychological Science

Spotlight on Research
Sayamwong "Jom" Hammack, Ph.D.


Undergraduate Years

Jom and Jasper
Jom and Jasper

I grew up in Gainesville, Florida, and graduated from high school in 1991. Although I grew up in Gainesville, I moved to Tallahassee to attend Florida State University where I earned a B.S. in Psychology in 1995. My first psychology class was during my freshman year at FSU (1992). I loved psychology, and decided during my freshman year that I wanted to pursue a career in behavioral neuroscience (it is strange to think that I am still doing this stuff). Part of this interest was motivated by high school experiences with panic attacks. But I was also extremely interested in Alzheimer's Disease, which my grandfather was suffering from at the time.

Although I had vague interests in panic and Alzheimer's, the Psychology Department at FSU had particularly strong expertise in the study of sensation and perception, and my attempts to find research experience landed me in a taste lab. As an undergraduate, I worked in the laboratory of Robert Contreras, recording from the chorda tympani, a nerve that carries sensory information from the tongue. We recorded the response of this nerve to the application of salt onto the tongue in different strains of rats to determine whether differences in salt preference could be attributed to different sensitivities of the tongue to our stimuli. It was a terrific experience for an undergraduate, and I've always believed that undergraduates should be involved in the research process.

Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

whole-cell patch-clamp

Scott Weissman working at the whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology rig in the Hammack Lab

While I enjoyed my undergraduate experiences in sensory research, I was still very interested in the neurobiological changes that might underlie other psychological processes such as emotion, learning and memory. Based on these interests, I decided to attend the University of Colorado in Boulder for graduate school and join the laboratory run by Steve Maier and Linda Watkins. For my master's degree, I investigated how systems important for the modulation of pain were altered during learned helplessness, a behavioral paradigm characterized by the behavioral changes observed following exposure to inescapable, but not equivalent escapable, stress. Learned helplessness is associated with both increases in anxiety-like behavior and deficits in certain types of learning, and has been argued to model depression and anxiety disorders in humans. For my doctorate I investigated the interactions between a stress hormone and the neurotransmitter serotonin in the development of learned helplessness. I earned an M.A. in Psychology in 1998 and a Ph.D. in Psychology in 2001.

In 2002 I started a postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University where I spend four years studying how serotonin modulates a brain structure called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, which has been linked to anxiety and anxiety disorders, and is also critical for learned helplessness. I conducted this research in the laboratory of Donald "Tig" Rainnie who taught me how to use electrophysiological techniques to record from single neurons in the brain. In 2006, I joined the faculty in UVM's Psychology Department, where I currently teach and run a research laboratory.

Current Research

Danielle Beaudoin
Danielle Beaudoin checking out the rig

My research lab on the 4th floor of Dewey Hall is actively investigating neurobiological mechanisms that mediate anxiety-like behavior and the modulation of anxiety by chronic stress, exercise and drugs. We have a number of projects that are described at our lab website: website

Many of these projects involve collaborations with other Psychology Department faculty, as well as investigators in the medical school. Notably, many undergraduate students contribute to the science that occurs in the laboratory, and I am very thankful for their contributions.