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Director

Adam Arkin is the Dean A. Richard Newton Memorial Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley and Senior Faculty Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He and his laboratory develop experimental and computational technologies for discovery, prediction, control and design of microbial and viral functions and behaviors in environmental contexts.

He is the chief scientist of the Department of Energy Scientific Focus Area, ENIGMA(Ecosystems and Networks Integrated with Genes and Molecular Assemblies, http://enigma.lbl.gov), designed to understand, at a molecular level, the impact of microbial communities on their ecosystems with specific focus on terrestrial communities in contaminated watersheds. He also directs the Department of Energy Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase) program: (http://kbase.us) an open platform for comparative functional genomics, systems and synthetic biology for microbes, plants and their communities, and for sharing results and methods with other scientists. He is director of the newly announced Center for Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space which seeks microbial and plant-based biological solutions for in situ resource utilization that reduce the launch mass and improves reliability and quality of food, pharmaceuticals, fuels and materials for astronauts on a mission to Mars. Finally, he is the Co-Director of the Berkeley Synthetic Biology Institute, which brings together U.C. Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Scientists with Industry Partners to forward technology and applications for sustainable biomanufacturing.

Division Director

Lance C. Seefeldt is Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Utah State University.  He received his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of California at Riverside and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Metalloenzyme Studies at the University of Georgia.  He joined the faculty at Utah State University in 1993.  He is the recipient of the D. Wynne Thorne Research Award and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  He is the Utah State University Institutional PI and lead of the Microbial Media and Feedstock Division of CUBES.

Dr. Seefeldt’s research focus is on biological nitrogen fixation.  He has been investigating the mechanism of activation of N2 by the bacterial enzyme nitrogenase.  This work has recently lead to the insight that metal-hydrides are central to the reduction of N2 to NH3.  He is also investigating how to grow nitrogen fixing bacteria with electrodes as a way to accomplish light-driven reduction of N2 and CO2 as a way to capture and make available these resources from the Martian atmosphere.  

Faculty

Doug Clark is the Gilbert Newton Lewis Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Dean of the College of Chemistry of the University of California Berkeley.

Dr. Clark’s research interests are in biochemical engineering and biocatalysts. His research is in the field of biochemical engineering, with particular emphasis on enzyme technology, biomaterials, and bioenergy. Current projects include the structural characterization and activation of enzymes in non-aqueous media, the development of metabolic biochips for high-throughput catalysis and bioactivity screening, protein design and assembly for the development of advanced biomaterials, and enhanced conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to biofuels.
 

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Peidong Yang
Areas of Interest:

Peidong Yang received a B.S. in chemistry from University of Science and Technology of China in 1993 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University in 1997. He did postdoctoral research at University of California, Santa Barbara before joining the faculty in the department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1999. He is currently professor in the Department of Chemistry, Materials Science and Engineering; and a senior faculty scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is S. K. and Angela Chan Distinguished Chair Professor in Energy. He was recently elected as MRS Fellow, and as a member of the National Academy of Sciences and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He is the director for California Research Alliance by BASF, and co-director for the Kavli Energy Nanoscience Institute. He is one of the founding members for DOE Energy Innovation Hub: Joint Center for Artificial Photosysnthesis (JCAP) and served as its north director for the first two years.  Yang is an associate editor for Journal of the American Chemical Society and also serves on editorial advisory board for number of journals including Acct. Chem. Res. and Nano. Lett. He was the founder of the Nanoscience subdivision within American Chemical Society. He has co-founded two startups Nanosys Inc. and Alphabet Energy Inc. He is the recipient of MacArthur Fellowship, E. O. Lawrence Award, ACS Nanoscience Award, MRS Medal, Baekeland Medal, Alfred P. Sloan research fellowship, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator Award, National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, MRS Young Investigator Award, Julius Springer Prize for Applied Physics, ACS Pure Chemistry Award, and Alan T. Waterman Award. According to ISI (2002-2012, Thomas Reuters), Yang is ranked as No. 1 in materials science and No. 10 in chemistry based on average citation per paper. His main research interest is in the area of one dimensional semiconductor nanostructures and their applications in nanophotonics and energy conversion
 

Postdoctoral Scholar

Artavazd Badalyan received a Diploma in chemistry from the Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia and a Ph.D. in analytical biochemistry in the group of Prof. Ulla Wollenberger from the University of Potsdam in Germany where he focused on the bioelectrochemistry of molybdenum hydroxylases and on the development of electrochemical biosensors. He was a postdoctoral research associate with Prof. Shannon Stahl at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the field of organic electrochemistry where he developed a novel bioinspired electrocatalyst system for the low-potential alcohol oxidation. Following a position at the Draegerwerk AG as a project leader in the field of electrochemical sensors, he joined the group of Prof. Lance Seefeldt at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Utah State University and works on the (bio)electrocatalysis for nitrogen fixation.

Jake hails from the far-away lands of the Midwest. He received his Bachelor's degree in Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was introduced to the world of scientific research through the study of the evolution of gene expression regulation in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Upon graduation, Jake began his graduate work in Marine Studies at the University of Delaware where he studied the regulation of energy metabolism in green sulfur bacteria (the Chlorobiaceae). Being a microbiologist that had always admired synthetic biology from a distance, and one that was enamored with space exploration, Jake joined the Arkin Lab at the University of California-Berkeley as a postdoc to pursue applications of microbial engineering to space exploration and colonization. Jake's research interests include environmental microbiology, microbial physiology/systems biology, genetics, synthetic biology, and space bioengineering. 
 

Yuexiao Shen joined Prof. Peidong Yang’s group at UC Berkeley as a postdoc in October, 2017. He finished his Ph.D. from the department of Chemical Engineering at Penn State in 2016. During his Ph.D., he worked on several projects in the interdisciplinary areas of chemical engineering, biology, chemistry and material science. He was focused on developing bioinspired membranes using membrane proteins that mimic the rapid and selective transport as seen in biological membranes. He extended to explore the potential of mimicking biological channels and lipids using supramolecular chemistry and investigating them using biophysical techniques. Yuexiao finished his bachelor and master degrees at Tsinghua University, where he studied environmental engineering. His academic accomplishments include several high-quality publications in journals such as PNAS, JACS and Journal of Membrane Science (JMS), and have been recognized by nationwide academic organizations with a number of very competitive awards. Yuexiao has already been offered an assistant professor position at Department of Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineering at Texas Tech.
 

Currently Su is a postdoctoral researcher working with Professor Peidong Yang at University of California, Berkeley. His current research focuses on the bioelectrochemical CO2 fixation and N2 reduction. He received his Ph.D. degree in Chemistry on September 2017, with Professor Peidong Yang at University of California, Berkeley. During the Ph.D., he was awarded the MRS Graduate Student Award and the Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed Student Abroad. Su obtained his B.S. degree in Chemistry from University of Science and Technology of China on 2012, before joining the Peidong Yang Group as a graduate student.

He is currently working as a Researcher with Professor Dr. Lance C. Seefeldt at Utah State University. He received his PhD in Organic Chemistry from Nankai University, Tianjin, China in 2007 and PhD in Biochemistry from Utah State University in 2013. After that, he continuously worked with Dr. Lance Seefeldt as postdoctoral fellow focusing on understanding nitrogenase mechanism with a broad range of interdisciplinary strategies, including biochemical, biophysical, and electrochemical methods. His research interests include metalloenzymes, small molecule activation, and relevant catalyst design and mechanistic studies.

Graduate Student

Anthony Abel is a Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering in the Clark Laboratory at UC Berkeley. Previously, he earned his B.S. in Chemical Engineering and M.S. in Materials Science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, where he developed solution deposition techniques for inexpensive semiconductor materials. He has previously worked for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where he designed reactors for the sustainable production of hydrogen via photoelectrochemical water splitting. 

Anthony’s research interests lie at the intersection of chemical engineering, materials science, and microbial synthesis. Within CUBES, he will focus on the simulation and design of hybrid bioinorganic reactors and engineering microbes to function optimally within this artificial environment.

In his spare time, Anthony is a mentor for Bay Area Graduate Pathways to STEM, and enjoys reading science fiction and playing squash.
 

Aaron Berliner is a Bioengineering graduate student in the Arkin Laboratory at UC Berkeley/UCSF. He studied bioengineering, control theory, synthetic and systems biology, and nanotechnology at Boston University. In 2012, he began working as a research associate at the NASA Ames Research Center on projects involving 3D printing, bioelectrochemistry, and astrobiology. In 2013, he started as a research scientist in the Life Sciences group of Autodesk Research in San Francisco. At Autodesk, Aaron’s work ran the gamut from bioprinting, software engineering, synthetic virology, and DNA origami until 2016 when he moved back to space biology. Forming a partnership between UC Berkeley, Autodesk, and NASA Ames, Aaron began construction for Crucible, an open-source reactor for space synthetic biology experiments until 2017 when he started as a graduate student with Adam Arkin. He enjoys playing with his Mars-in-a-jar reactors. Aaron helped author the STRI grant that launched CUBES and is an NSF graduate fellow. His alternative scientific interests are terraforming and radiation biology. Aaron likes whiteboards and dry erase markers and dirty models with clean math.
 

Stefano Cestellos-Blanco is a Ph.D. student in Materials Science & Engineering in the Yang Group under the direction of Professor Peidong Yang at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University in 2016. His research interests lie at the intersection of inorganic materials and molecular biology. He envisions a future in which nanoengineered materials work in cooperation with the natural world. Stefano is investigating biohybrid catalytic systems for the fixation and utilization of CO2 and N2 in the MMFD division of CUBES. 
 

Rhesa discovered her scientific interest many years ago in a high school chemistry class. Her inspirational teacher, Mr. Best—the stereotypical science geek with large bug-eye glasses—taught Rhesa many scientific lessons, but perhaps the greatest was that science is not just for nerdy boys (as her flawed logic thought), it is for anyone.

Currently, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Utah State University, Rhesa can be found at the laboratory bench doing research focused on understanding and harnessing the amazing abilities of microorganisms. Specifically, she studies the microbial transformation of nitrogen (N2) to ammonia (NH3). This process is a critical part of nature as the majority organisms cannot utilize N2 directly, but need it in a form like NH3 for growth and reproduction. The few microbes that facilitate this conversion provide valuable insight into one of the most biologically challenging reactions and may serve as a catalyst for developing systems for sustainable ammonia production on Mars. 

In additional to research, Rhesa also serves as a science reporter for Utah Public Radio and plans to pursue a career in science education and/or communication. Her excitement for not only doing science, but communicating it just might stem from growing up doing musical theater, which she loves. She also enjoys experiencing other cultures, and hot-potting is always on her list of things to do (and yes, it’s partly to see the beautiful microbial mats)!

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Mathangi Soundararajan
Areas of Interest:

Mathangi Soundararajan is a PhD candidate from India currently at Utah State University advised by Lance Seefeldt. She has also been awarded the Presidential Doctoral Research Fellow by Utah State University. She majored in biotechnology in her high school, and went on to get her Bachelors in Biomedical Sciences from Sri Ramachandra University. In her junior year, she was awarded the Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship by Sri Ramachandra University to study the effects of dairy intake on inflammatory biomarkers in people with Type 2 Diabetes. She also worked as a Research Assistant at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences during her final year, where she studied the genetic susceptibility of Type 2 Diabetes patients to colorectal cancer using bioinformatics methods. Graduating at the top of her batch, she was awarded the 'Best Outgoing Student' medal as well. Her current research interest includes understanding and applying biological nitrogen fixation in bioelectrochemical systems. Her undergraduate research experience has also contributed to her interest in understanding metabolism and the effects of derangements in metabolism. When she is not losing track of time in the research lab, you can find her catching up on TV series and Netflixing. 
 

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Tom Tacken
Areas of Interest:

Tom is a Visiting Scholar from the Netherlands completing the research for his master thesis in the Peidong Yang Group. His work is focused on the microbial synthesis of ammonia from dinitrogen gas. Ammonia is essential for a successful manned mission to Mars. However, it is not feasible to achieve the current production method, the Haber-Bosch process, on Mars due to limited resources. Therefore, the search for an alternative way to produce ammonia is paramount to the success of this mission. The reduction of dinitrogen gas with a solar-driven potential and bacteria as catalysts is a very promising way of achieving this.

Kelly Wetmore is a graduate student in Adam Arkin’s lab at UC Berkeley with over 15 years of experience in microbial physiology and genetics before and during graduate school. She has been instrumental in developing a number of next-generation tools and protocols for microbial functional genomics. Kelly is supporting the CUBES team in applying these tools to optimize the core biomanufacturing microbes in physiologically more-or-less relevant conditions. She is also part of a large DOE environmental systems biology project in which she is developing a new technology to query high-throughput genetic interactions.

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Hao Zhang
Areas of Interest:

Hao Zhang is a 4th year graduate student in Chemistry at University of California Berkeley with Prof. Peidong Yang. She received her B.S in Material Science and Engineering from University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in 2014.
Her research is focused on the CO2 fixation via photosynthetic biohybrid systems(PBSs) in the MMFD division. The non-photosynthetic bacteria could be photosensitized by using the semiconductors to reduce the CO2 into multicarbon products, such as acetate, ethanol, and other valuable products. Such PBSs inherits both the high light-harvesting efficiency and the superior catalytic performance from solid-state semiconductors and whole-cell microorganisms, respectively.

Undergraduate Student

Brendan, originally from Austin, TX, is a second-year chemical engineering major with a concentration in biotechnology. His research interest lies in the intersection of chemical engineering and synthetic biology. As a part of CUBES, Brendan is currently working with postdoctoral scholar Jacob Hilzinger to genetically engineer cyanobacteria to produce useful biomass in both Earth-based and Mars-based economies.

Alex Starr is a second year undergraduate at University of California Berkeley with interests in synthetic and molecular biology, applied math, artificial intelligence, and the utilization of biology in space exploration.  As part of CUBES, he is working to develop a system for the detoxification and enrichment of Martian regolith using the perchlorate reducing bacterium Azospira suillum PS.  Prior to joining CUBES, Alex studied expression of genes related to root growth in sunflowers and worked on understanding the genetic basis of drought-tolerant root phenotypes in maize.