Dr. Phillip Rivera is a behavioral neuroimmunologist who began his faculty appointment in Hope College's Department of Biology in summer 2018. Phillip’s mission at Hope is to foster curiosity in basic research by providing safe-space environments in the classroom and research laboratory for students and faculty. Phillip aims to communicate the value of family and friends, to continually learn from the people he meets and respectfully mentor all who are interested. Phillip’s core values as an instructor and researcher include:

  • Nature/environment
  • Curiosity
  • Equality
  • Mentorship
  • Family

Research Focus

Apply for undergraduate research experience in Dr. Rivera's lab 

Dr. Rivera’s research is driven by the a fundamental question, “what can influence memories?” Despite 2000 and 2014 Nobel Prizes being awarded for expanding our understanding of how neurons impact learning and memory, he believes researchers are only observing the tip of this iceberg. For instance, while researchers are at the early stages of understanding how to create and interfere with a memory, we still do not know what a memory is.

By understanding what can influence previously learned memories, we can better understand what a memory is and how to treat neurological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction to drugs of abuse such as opiates, THC and alcohol. Immune responses are implicated in altering learning and memory, therefore Phillip is currently interested in understanding how microglia, immune cells in the brain, are involved in learning and memory processes related to addiction.

Students interested in learning more about behavioral neuroimmunology are encouraged to volunteer and train in his research laboratory.

AREAS OF Expertise

Dr. Rivera's research career involves an appreciation for the complex innate immune response involved in substance use disorders and elucidating how immune function can mediate learning and memory signaling cascades involved in addiction-like behaviors. The foundation of his research skills and techniques is based on studying interactions between the nervous and immune systems using several techniques including (but not limited to):

  • PCR
  • qPCR
  • Western blots
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy
  • Primary cell isolations/cell cultures
  • Animal behavior


  • Post-doc, behavioral neuroimmunology, Harvard Medical School/MassGeneral Hospital Department of Pediatrics (Staci Bilbo, advisor), 2016–2018
    Topic: Contribution of Peripheral Immune Response to Neuroimmune Activation After Chronic Ethanol Exposure
  • Post-doc, behavioral neuroimmunology, Duke University Department of Psychology (Staci Bilbo, advisor), Department of Psychology, 2014–2016
    Topic: Neuroimmune Signaling Protects Against Prolonged Extinction and Enhanced Reinstatement of Morphine Reward Memories Via Maintenance of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis
  • Ph.D., ​integrative​ ​biology, UT Southwestern Medical Center Department of Psychiatry (Amelia Eisch, Ph.D., advisor), 2008–2014
    Thesis: Function and Regulation of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis: Studies Relevant to Addiction and Space Radiation
  • M.S., chemistry, New Mexico State University Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (Michael Johnson, thesis advisor), 2006–2008
    Thesis: A Kinetic and DFT Investigation on the Characterization of the Potassium Ferrate(VI) Reaction of Sulfite and Selenite
  • B.S.,​ biology, New Mexico State University Department of Biology, (Michael Johnson, thesis advisor) 2001–2005
    Thesis: The Formation Kinetics and Mechanism of Amavadin-like Complexes


Outside the college

Besides continuously learning about topics related to immunology and cognition, Phillip enjoys spending time with his wife, Renese, and son, Vincent, by hiking and playing at the beach. As an avid “rock hound” he spends most time looking at the ground looking for interesting rocks and minerals. He has an appreciation for card/board games, is fascinated with cultures from around the world and enjoys singing/listening to almost all genres of music.