Frontiers of Science

Faculty Bios

Travis Bain

Travis Bain received his B.S. in Physics from Arizona State University, followed by a Ph. D. in Physics from The University of Toronto. He conducts research in the field of experimental particle physics as a member of the ATLAS experiment, a multipurpose particle detector at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. His doctoral work focused on searches for Supersymmetry, a beyond the Standard Model theory, which posits the existence of many new subatomic particles. He is currently in the Department of Physics working on Supersymmetry as well as advanced Higgs Boson analyses for the ATLAS collaboration.

Imre Bartos

Imre Bartos received his PhD in astrophysics from Columbia University. He studies black hole formation through the gravitational collapse of massive stars and the resulting spectacular explosions, as well as the coalescence of black hole and neutron star binaries. He also works on the biological applications of optics, ranging from malaria control in sub-Saharan Africa to genetics. He was a recipient of the Allan M. Sachs Teaching Award in 2011 and was a finalist for the Columbia Presidential Teaching Award in 2012. He has been recognized as one of the 30 under 30 Rising Stars of Science by Forbes Magazine in 2012.

Klejda Bega

Klejda Bega graduated from Caltech with a BS in Physics with Honors in 1999 and a PhD in Physics in 2004. She did her graduate work in particle physics at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where she was involved in the measurement of parity violation in electron-electron scattering. After graduation she worked as a management consultant, assisting public and private sector clients in projects including strategic sourcing, data analysis, market research, process mapping and redesign, and staff training. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Columbia, conducting research in atomic, molecular and optical physics focusing on precise manipulation of ultracold atoms and molecules in optical lattices.

Katherine Brooks

Katherine Brooks graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in anthropology in 2004 and a PhD in evolutionary biology in 2014. She is broadly interested in the evolution of cooperation and social behavior. During her PhD, she used a combination of field and lab techniques to study social behavior in ground-dwelling squirrels. At Columbia, she is a Science Fellow in the Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology Department where she is investigating the evolution of social behavior in snapping shrimp with Dr. Dustin Rubenstein.
Amber Carr
Amber Carr received her PhD in Chemistry from Stony Brook University, where her dissertation research focused on advanced sampling algorithms for computer simulation studies of protein folding. Working in collaboration with IBM Research as a recipient of the IBM PhD Fellowship, she also completed studies in the area of computational nanomedicine, simulating polymeric systems for potential application to drug delivery. In addition to performing research, Amber also coordinated a peer tutoring and STEM retention program at Stony Brook. Amber is currently a Columbia Science Fellow in the Department of Chemistry, where her research focuses on simulation studies of self-assembling nanoscale systems.

Nicholas Christie-Blick

Nicholas Christie-Blick is a Professor and former Chair of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and has been at Columbia University since 1983. He holds degrees in geology from the University of Cambridge, U.K. (B.A., 1974) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (Ph.D., 1979), and prior to joining Columbia was for three years a research geologist with Exxon in Houston, Texas. He teaches courses in sedimentary and field geology, receiving the Best Teacher Award in Earth and Environmental Sciences in 1996 and 2008 from the department's Ph.D. students, and in 2010 from the undergraduates (the inaugural year of that award). He is well known at Columbia for a very popular Geological Excursion to Death Valley, California over spring break. He acted as chair of the Rabi Scholars Program for research-oriented undergraduates in the sciences and mathematics from 2002-2011. Christie-Blick's research deals with sedimentation processes, crustal deformation, and deep-time Earth history - currently with emphasis on the manner in which continental crust stretches prior to the formation of new ocean basins. He spent part of summer, 2014 on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Iceland.
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Taffeta Elliott
Taffeta Elliott graduated from St. John's College in Santa Fe and earned her PhD in Neurobiology at Columbia. An overarching interest in how the brain discerns the complex sound properties of language took her to a research postdoc at UC Berkeley. Speech projects there verged into music, to make a complete acoustic description of the 5 percepts that give sound color (timbre) to the western orchestra, using computational methods that numerically represent perceptual patterns in sound. She has taught an undergraduate course in Music Cognition and is currently a Science Fellow continuing neurophysiology research on reproductive communication in the department of Biological Sciences.
Ivana Hughes
Ivana Nikolic Hughes is the Associate Director for Frontiers of Science and Lecturer in Discipline in the Department of Chemistry. She graduated from Caltech with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, with Honors, in 1999. While at Caltech, she was the recipient of several research fellowships, and conducted research in novel therapeutics at the University of Nis in Serbia, at ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, and at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Hughes earned her PhD from Stanford University in 2005, working in the Department of Biochemistry as an American Heart Association Fellow. She studied enzymatic catalysis and protein evolution in the alkaline phosphatase superfamily. Dr. Hughes works with the Frontiers faculty across all ranks on the development of the curriculum for the course, and enhancement of seminar teaching. In addition to her work in Frontiers of Science, Dr. Hughes is the Associate Director for the K1 Project – Center for Nuclear Issues. As part of her efforts in K1, Dr. Hughes works with undergraduate students and other faculty on various projects to promote informed debate on the topic of nuclear technologies in the Columbia community, as well as in the general public. Much of this work is featured on the K1 website at: [ Website ]
Darcy Kelley
Darcy Kelley graduated from Barnard College and received her Ph.D. from the Rockefeller University. She has been a member of the Columbia faculty since 1981 and is currently Professor of Biological Sciences. In 2002 she was named Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. Darcy Kelley's research uses the South African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis , to study the neurobiology of social communication, with the goal of determining how one brain communicates with another and to study sexual differentiation, the hormone-directed developmental program that leads to male and female phenotypes.
Rachel Kennedy-Smith
Rachel Kennedy-Smith received a B.S. in Biochemistry and a B.A. in English (creative writing), with a chemistry minor, from the University of Maine, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. As a doctoral student, Rachel taught undergraduate courses in biochemistry and chemistry to majoring and non-majoring science students. Her dissertation research was performed in the laboratory of Dr. Julie A. Gosse, where she studied the immunomodulatory effects of hormonally active environmental chemicals on mast cell function. Rachel is currently a Columbia Science Fellow in the department of Psychology, where she is investigating the normal and pathological function of mast cells in the brain.
Janna Levin
Janna Levin is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy. She has contributed to an understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of spacetime. She is the author of the popular-science book How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham prize, among other awards. Janna was recently named a Guggenheim Fellow.
Alexander Lloyd

Alexander Lloyd received his B.S. in Geology from Dickinson College in 2007 and spent a year as a park ranger in the deserts of Arizona. He recently received his Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Columbia University. His doctoral work focused on the measurement of water in magmas and minerals and their application as chronometers for magma ascent during the explosive eruption of Volcán de Fuego in 1974. Alex is currently a Columbia Science Fellow in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, where he continues his research on the timescales of igneous processes during explosive eruptions.

Jerry McManus
Jerry McManus grew up in New York City and received a B.A, M.A. and Ph.D. (1997) in Geology from Columbia University. As a paleo-oceanographer, his research uses deep-sea sediments to reconstruct past changes in the Earth’s climate and the large-scale ocean circulation, with a special focus on the role that the ocean plays in abrupt climate change. He has spent nearly a year of his life at sea. After ten years at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he returned to Columbia in 2008, and is now a Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences based at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Don Melnick
Don Melnick is Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Conservation Biology in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B) at Columbia University. A faculty member of Columbia since 1981, he was born and raised in and around New York City, receiving his B.A. from NYU and his Ph.D. from Yale University. For over 25 years Professor Melnick has used molecular genetics to understand aspects of the ecology, behavior, evolution and conservation of vertebrates. This research has spanned organisms from frogs to elephants and continents from Central and South America to Asia and Africa. His work has been published in numerous technical journals and books, and covered by such popular media as The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, and Discovery Channel. Most recently, Professor Melnick assumed the role of co-Chair of the U.N. Millennium Task Force on Environmental Sustainability, and with the other co-Chair, Ms. Yolanda Kakabadse, the former Minister of the Environment of Ecuador, he has assembled an international team that is charged with delivering an action plan for achieving environmental sustainability to the U.N. Secretary General by 2005.
Bill Menke
William H. Menke graduated from MIT and received his doctorate from Columbia University. He is currently is a Professor in the Departmant of Earth & Environmental Sciences. William Menke's research uses seismic tomography methods to form images of the earth's deep interior. He has applied these methods to ridge axes and volcanoes in Iceland, fault systems in California, and mountains in the Himalayas.
Paolomi Merchant
Paolomi Merchant received her doctorate in Chemistry from Columbia University. She is currently doing research in the area of chemical neuroscience. She works at the Columbia Medical school with David Sulzer on developing fluorescent molecules to visualize various aspects of neurotransmission. She is interested in the development of small molecules and imaging techniques for use in the treatment and monitoring of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Shaena Montanari
Shaena Montanari received her B.S. in geological sciences from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She recently received her Ph.D in comparative biology from the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History. Her doctoral work focused on studying paleoecology and paleobiology of terrestrial vertebrates using analytical techniques such as stable isotope geochemistry. She currently researches molecular and dietary ecology of large carnivores at the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics with adjunct E3B professor George Amato.
Paul Olsen
Paul Olsen the Arthur D. Storke Memorial Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, focuses his research on the evolution of continental ecosystems through study of the pattern, causes, and effects of climate change on geological time scales, mass extinctions, and the effects of evolutionary innovations on the Earth System. Much of his fieldwork deals with the beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs (250 to 180 million years ago), includes drilling and recovery of long rock cores from ancient lakes, and fossil collection from New York and New Jersey to Arizona and Morocco. A National Academy of Sciences member, Olsen has a B.A. in Geology and a Ph.D. in Biology both from Yale University.
Terry plank
Terry Plank is a Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. She joined the faculty in 2008, returning after having been a graduate student at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory from 1985 to 1993, when she obtained her Ph.D. Born in a quarry in Delaware, Professor Plank has studied rocks her whole life -- granites and schists when an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, dredging volcanic rocks from the seafloor while a Lamont graduate student, drilling the oldest oceanic crust in the Pacific while a faculty member at the University of Kansas and Boston University, and most recently, collecting samples from recently erupted volcanoes in the Aleutians and Nicaragua. Professor Plank studies magmas associated with the plate tectonic cycle, their source, ascent and eruption. Much of her current research is focused on measuring the water content of magmas before they erupt. Plank is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and is currently on tour as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Mineralogical Society of America
Eric Raymer
Eric Raymer graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato with a B.S. in Physics, and afterward moved to rural North Carolina to teach high school science and math. He returned to school to complete his Ph.D. in Physics at North Carolina State University, where he used massively parallel hydrodynamic simulations to model interactions between stars in binary systems. His recent work focuses on modeling the behavior of a newly discovered sub-class of binaries called Supergiant Fast X-ray Transients, in which X-ray flares are produced by a neutron star as it accretes material from its companion's stellar wind. Eric is currently a Columbia Science Fellow in the Department of Physics.

Mónica Rouco-Molina
Mónica Rouco-Molina received the Veterinary B.S. degree from the University Complutense of Madrid (UCM), Spain, in 2006. After graduation, she started exploring the fascinating world of phytoplankton (microscopic algae), and how these organisms deal with their geochemical environment. She developed her Ph.D. studies at the UCM, and did several research exchanges with the National Oceanographic Centre of Southampon, in England, and with the Institute of Marine Sciences in Cadiz (CSIC), in Spain. After earning her Ph.D. in 2011, she started a research postdoctoral position at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MA, where she focused on studying the physiological ecology of the cyanobacterium Trichodesmium, one of the most important nitrogen fixers in aquatic ecosystems. Mónica is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Columbia, in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, where she continues her research in microbial oceanography. In addition to her research and teaching, Mónica has a leadership role in the Center for Microbiology: Research and Education (C-MORE), where she promotes the professional development of students and other postdocs, and work towards enhancing diversity in STEM fields.
Abigail Sporer
Abigail Sporer graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she double-majored in Theatre and French and studied for a year in Aix-en-Provence, France. She later changed fields and earned a PhD in Molecular Biology at Princeton University, where her research focused on the genetic and regulatory control of mating and sporulation in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Abigail’s current research in the department of Biological Sciences focuses on the regulation of pigment, antibiotic, and signaling molecule production in the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa and several other species of non-pathogenic soil bacteria.
Helena Uthas
Helena Uthas received a M.Sc. in Physics from Lund University, Sweden in 2005. She has a background in observational astronomy, and during 2006 - 2008 she worked as a support astronomer at the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma, Canary Islands. She recently received her Ph.D. in astronomy from Southampton University in England, where her research was focused on late evolution of close binary star systems. Since 2003, Helena has actively worked with public outreach in her home country Sweden, where she leads seminars, both in schools and in the public. Helena is currently pursuing postdoctoral research at the Columbia Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.