Frontiers of Science

Faculty Bios

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.

Scott Dietrich

Scott Dietrich graduated from Boston University with a BA in Physics and Mathematics in 2010 and recently received his PhD in Physics from the City University of New York. He specializes in the study of condensed matter systems where electrons are confined to two-dimensions. For his PhD, he studied the nonlinear response of two-dimensional semiconductors and superconductors under the influence of high frequency radiation. Scott is now a Columbia Science Fellow in the Physics Department where he investigates the electronic properties of graphene, a one-atom thick sheet of carbon atoms.
Brian Greene

Brian Greene is a Professor of Mathematics and of Physics, and co-founder of Columbia’s Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics. He is widely recognized for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory and is known to the public through his general-level lectures, writings and science documentaries. Professor Greene received his B. A. from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

Stephen Harris

Stephen Harris graduated from Ohio State University with a BS in molecular genetics in 2006 and a PhD in evolutionary biology from CUNY – The Graduate Center in 2015. His PhD research studied the adaptive population genomics of urban white-footed mice in NYC. He has a general interest in using genomics to better understand how organisms respond and adapt to changing and novel environments.  As a Columbia science fellow in the Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology Department, he is employing a landscape evolutionary genomics approach to infer the demographic history and identify specific environmental variables that explain patterns of genetic variation in  snapping shrimp over time.

Donald C. Hood
Donald C. Hood the James F. Bender Professor of Psychology and Professor of Ophthalmic Science (in Ophthalmology), has been a member of the Columbia faculty since 1969. He holds a B.A. from Harpur College of the State University of New York at Binghamton, M.Sc. and Ph.D. (1970) degrees from Brown University and an honorary degree from Smith College (2000). From 1982 to 1987, he served as Vice President for the Arts and Sciences at Columbia University. At Columbia University, he has been awarded the Mark van Doren Award for Outstanding Teaching in the College (1993), the Great Teacher Award (Society of Columbia Gradates, 2004), and the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching (2007). Professionally, he serves on the editorial boards of IOVS, Vision Research, Journal of Vision and Documenta Ophthalmologica. Many of his 250 publications deal with issues of the basic neuroscience of vision while others, in collaboration with ophthalmologists, concern diseases of eye (retina) and optic nerve. He has had continuous grant support from NIH/NEI for 38 years.
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Emlyn Hughes
Emlyn Hughes is a Professor in the Physics Department at Columbia University.  His research is presently focused on searches for new particles and new interactions using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.  He joined the Columbia faculty in 2006.  He was previously a Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, where he was a recipient of the Feynman Teaching Award in 1999.  He received his B.A. in Physics at Stanford University in 1982 and his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1987.
Ivana Hughes
Ivana Nikolic Hughes is the Director of Frontiers of Science and Senior Lecturer in Discipline in the Department of Chemistry. Ivana 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. Ivana 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. Ivana is responsible for day-to- day operations of Frontiers of Science, and works with the Frontiers faculty across all ranks on the development of the curriculum for the course and enhancement of teaching. In addition to her work in Frontiers, Ivana is a Faculty Affiliate of the K1 Project – Center for Nuclear Issues. [ Website ] As part of her efforts in K1, Ivana works with undergraduate students and faculty to promote informed debate on the topic of nuclear technologies, via research, writing and film. Recent work has been featured in Huffington Post, Motherboard, Gizmodo, Science News, and elsewhere.
Orit Karni-Schmidt
Orit Karni-Schmidt graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Biotechnology in 1998 where she focused on HIV and nuclear transport. She continued her cellular biology research at the Rockefeller University as a Guest Investigator in the laboratory of Professor Michael Rout where she worked on the nuclear pore complex. Orit received a PhD in Biological Sciences from Columbia University where she conducted cancer research focusing on the p53 tumor suppressor protein in the laboratory of Professor Carol Prives. After receiving her PhD, she was a postdoctoral fellow and Associate Research Scientist at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University Medical School and at Mount Sinai Hospital. Orit was the recipient of two NIH-funded Cancer Training Grants and has published numerous scientific papers relating to her field of research. Orit is currently an adjunct professor in the Biological Sciences Department at Columbia.
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.
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.

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.
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.
Ethan D. Peck
Ethan D. Peck received his B.S. in Atmospheric Science from Cornell University in 2009, his M.S. in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2011, and his Ph.D. in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences for the University of Colorado Boulder in 2014. Ethan studies how solar cycle and energetic particle precipitation impact the Earth's climate. Ethan's research interests began when he was a Hollings Scholar and studied aurora and energetic particles at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado. This introduction to energetic particle precipitation led Ethan towards his Ph.D. thesis, which involved the creation of a new medium energy electron data-set and integration of that data into a global climate model. Ethan's research at Columbia strives to understand possible impacts and mechanisms from energetic particle precipitation into the troposphere (lower atmosphere). Ethan is currently a Columbia Frontiers of Science Fellow in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
Tim Pennucci
Tim Pennucci graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Astrophysics (CC '09) and received a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Virginia in 2015. His graduate research involved studies of exotic objects called pulsars, which are rotating neutron stars that are observed to "blink" like lighthouses. In particular, he has an interest in observations that use the stability of pulsars' rotations to perform high-precision experiments, such as those seeking to make the first detections of gravitational waves. As a Science Fellow in the Department of Astronomy, Tim continues his research with the nationwide NANOGrav collaboration on improving their experiment's sensitivity to gravitational waves.
Adrien Perrard
Adrien Perrard graduated from the University of Toulouse III, in France, with a B.S. in Biology in 2007 and moved to Paris to obtain a M.S. in Systematics and Evolution from the University Pierre & Marie Curie. He received his PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle of Paris in 2012. Since 2013, Adrien works as a Gerstner Scholar and Kalbfleisch fellow at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York. His research focuses on the morphological evolution of social wasps: he explores new methods to identify species and to assess the relationships among species, based on the geometric shapes of morphological structures.
Belle Philibosian
Belle Philibosian earned a B.S. and Ph.D. in geology from Caltech, and in between obtained a M.S. in geology from the University of Oregon. She was an AXA Postdoctoral Fellow for two years at the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris, France. Her primary research interests are active tectonics and paleoseismology with a particular focus on earthquake cycles. She has previously worked on the San Andreas Fault in California, the Sunda Megathrust off Sumatra, and the Lesser Antilles Megathrust in the Caribbean. As a Columbia Science Fellow in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, she is currently looking for evidence of paleo-earthquakes in the Bangladesh/Shillong Plateau region, an area in which a vast human population is threatened by significant but poorly understood seismic hazards.
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.
Dustin Rubenstein
Dustin Rubenstein is an Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology. He is director of the Program in Tropical Biology and Sustainability, and co-founder of the Center for Integrative Animal behavior. He studies the causes and consequences of sociality and how animals cope with environmental change. He joined the Columbia faculty in 2009 after completing a Miller Research Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his A.B. from Dartmouth College in 1999 and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2006..
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.