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Frontiers of Science

Faculty Bios

Katherine Allan

Kat Allen studied Geological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University (B.Sci.), Geochemistry at the University of Cambridge (M.Phil.), and Earth Sciences at Columbia University (Ph.D). She grew up on the coast of Maine and has always been fascinated by the ocean. Her current research involves reconstructing past ocean chemistry through geochemical analysis of ancient marine sediment, with the ultimate aim of understanding the ocean's role in climate change. For her work as a graduate T.A., she received a Department of Earth Sciences teaching award in 2010 and a Columbia Presidential Teaching Award in 2011.

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 a Columbia Science Fellow 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.
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.
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.
Allison Franzese
Allison Franzese received a B.S. from Stony Brook University with majors in Chemistry and Geology, followed by a Ph.D. from Columbia University in the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences. She then did a research-based Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Institute of Marine Sciences of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where she also taught a course in the Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Allison's research involves the application of isotope geochemistry to Paleoceanography. She is currently a Columbia Science Fellow in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
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.

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 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 three prestigious summer 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. Prior to her involvement in Frontiers of Science, Dr. Hughes taught General Chemistry 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.
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David Kagan
Corinne Kendall graduated from Cornell University with her B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2006 and did a Masters at Columbia University in Conservation Biology while working as an educator at the Bronx Zoo. Her doctoral work focused on the effects of human activities on avian scavengers, mainly vultures, in East Africa and was completed in 2012 in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at Princeton University. Her research interests include animal behavior, human-wildlife conflict, and environmental education. Corinne is currently a Columbia Science Fellow in the E3B Department
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.
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.
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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.
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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 currently on tour as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Mineralogical Society of America.

Robert Pollack
Robert Pollack is professor of biological sciences, member of the faculty of the Earth Institute, lecturer in psychiatry at the Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, adjunct professor of science and religion at Union Theological Seminary, Director of University Seminars (2011), and Director of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion at Columbia University. Dr. Pollack graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in physics, and received a Ph.D. in biology from Brandeis University. He has been a professor of biological sciences at Columbia since 1978, and was dean of Columbia College from 1982–89. He received the Alexander Hamilton Medal from Columbia University, and has held a Guggenheim Fellowship. He currently is on the advisory boards of Columbia/Barnard Hillel and has been a Senior Consultant for the Director, Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He is a Fellow of the AAAS, and the World Economic Forum in Davos. He is the author of Signs of Life: The Languages and Meanings of DNA (Houghton Mifflin/Viking Penguin, 1994), The Missing Moment: How the Unconscious Shapes Modern Science (Houghton Mifflin, 1999); and The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith: Meaning, Order and Free Will in Modern Medical Science (Columbia University Press, 2000). Signs of Life received the Lionel Trilling Award and has been translated into six languages.
Caleb Scharf
Caleb Scharf is Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University and has been a member of the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory since 2000. His research career has encompassed observational cosmology, high energy astrophysics, and exoplanetary science. He won the 2011 Chambliss Prize from the American Astronomical Society for his textbook Extrasolar Planets and Astrobiology and writes extensively on science for general audiences at Scientific American, The New Yorker, The New York Times, WIRED, and more. He is also the author of Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos (Scientific America/Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2012). He received his BSc in Physics from Durham University and his PhD in Astronomy from the University of Cambridge.

Allyson Sheffield
Allyson Sheffield received a B.S. in Physics from New York University and her Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Virginia in 2007. After earning her doctorate, she was a Visiting Assistant Professor in Physics and Astronomy at Vassar College for 3 years. She studies the motions and chemical nature of stars in our Galaxy, with the goal of understanding how the Galaxy formed.

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.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams received his MPhys in Physics and PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Oxford and was a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Munich, Germany. His research focusses on the composition, structure and evolution of disk galaxies: what are galaxies made of, why do they look like they do, and how is that related to the physical processes that have been happening since the Big Bang? He uses telescopes in Australia, Chile and West Texas. Between undergraduate and graduate school he worked in the UK Houses of Parliament and as a journal editor for Institute of Physics Publishing.