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.

Jeremy Adams is a Ph.D. student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UC Berkeley, currently working in the Clark Lab. He received a BSE in Chemical Engineering from Arizona State University in 2017. Jeremy’s research interests lie in the intersection of synthetic biology and biochemical engineering, particularly towards the development of sustainable biomanufacturing processes. His work in CUBES involves engineering lithoautotrophic microbes to convert Mars-available resources into useful products, as well as engineering export pathways of those products to simplify downstream separation processes. In his free time, Jeremy enjoys traveling and scuba diving.

Aaron Berliner is a Bioengineering graduate student in the Arkin Laboratory at UC Berkeley/UCSF. He studied bioengineering, control theory, and synthetic and systems biology 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 on 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. 

Jithran Ekanayake grew up in Sri Lanka and moved to the United States in 2016 to study biology at Carleton College, MN on a Starr Foundation scholarship. He is now a graduate student in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida, where he works with Dr. Amor Menezes and the Systems Design and Integration Division of CUBES to develop experimentally-validated models of space biomanufacturing processes in low-shear modeled microgravity.

Outside of space synthetic biology, he is interested in pararescue, resilience education, and how space exploration could function as a propellant for the peaceful unification of people and nations across the globe.

Brendan obtained a B.S. in Horticulture from the University of Georgia in 2017 and graduated in 2019 with a dual M.S. in Crop and Soil Science and Sustainable Agriculture from the University of Georgia and Università degli Studi di Padova, respectively. He is presently working toward completion of a Ph.D. in Plant Science at Utah State University's Crop Physiology Laboratory. His graduate research work encompasses photobiological studies and development of novel resource supply, monitoring and control approaches for the plant root-zone in microgravity that are capable of sustaining multiple, successive plant generations.

Mackenzie Jones received her B.S. in Botany from Utah Valley University. She is currently a graduate student at Utah State University working in the Crop Physiology Laboratory in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Plant Science. Her interests of study include plant nutrition, soil fertility, and nutrient cycling. For the CUBES effort, Mackenzie's research will focus on optimizing plant nutrition in controlled environments for long-term space travel. 

Ji Min Kim is a 1st year Ph.D. student in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of California Berkeley in the Yang Group. She received her B.S. degree in Materials Science and Engineering from Hanyang University in 2016 and M.S. degree in Materials Science and Engineering from Seoul National University in 2018. Her research interest is focused on the CO2 fixation via a semiconductor nanowire-bacteria hybrid system in the MMFD division of CUBES. The system utilizing light capturing high surface area nanowire array and acetogenic anaerobes enables the photoelectrochemical acetic acid production with long-term stability.

Paul Kusuma received a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the University of Florida, and is now pursuing a PhD in plant physiology at Utah State University. 

Noah received a double B.S. in Biochemistry and Biology from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point in 2020. He is currently pursuing a Ph. D. in Plant Science as a graduate research assistant in the Crop Physiology Lab at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Noah's  interests include optimizing hydroponics systems and plant nutrition for efficient production in closed systems. Outside of CUBES, he enjoys backpacking, geocaching, and flying general aviation airplanes.

George earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a M.S. in "Process, Simulation, Optimization, and Control" from the University of Patras (Greece) in 2016 and 2018, respectively. While there, he was a member of the “Laboratory of Fluid Mechanics and Rheology” where his research focused on the rheology and numerical simulation of flows involving complex yield-stress fluids. He is now pursuing a PhD in Chemical Engineering at University of California, Berkeley, working in the “Process Systems and Control Laboratory”. His current research interests lie in learning-based optimal control of complex systems that intrinsically contain uncertainties. As a member of CUBES, he will be part of the SDID, focusing on systems engineering, process modelling, dynamic optimization and control. His motivation for studying Chemical Engineering was his particular interest in mathematics as a high-school student, as well as his enthusiasm in applying scientific principles towards solving real-world problems.

Matt received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He previously worked as a process engineer for Sanofi Genzyme. His current research focuses on developing a novel biologically-derived bioseparations platform for limited resource environments.

Jorge is originally from Chicago where he attended Loyola University Chicago and received his B.S. in Environmental Science with a Chemistry Minor. After his undergraduate studies, he attended Stanford where he obtained his M.S. in Environmental Engineering and where he has continued as a PhD student working with Professor Craig Criddle. His research focuses on biotechnology with an emphasis on efficiently utilizing waste streams to produce biological materials (e.g., bioplastics, biofuels). As part of the CUBES effort, Jorge's research involves identifying organisms that can thrive on the limited amount of resources available for long-range space travel.

Patrick is a first-year student in the Chemical Engineering department at UC Davis, where he works in the McDonald-Nandi lab. He earned his BS in Chemical Engineering at UC Berkeley. Patrick joined CUBES because he is passionate about biotechnology and hopes to improve the safety and feasibility of space missions.

Vince is a first-year Ph.D. student in chemistry at Stanford University; he is interested in creating biodegradable organic materials as well as designing materials processing techniques such as additive manufacturing in order to make functional parts from biodegradable materials feasible for replacing petroleum based plastics. His role in CUBES will be to create and optimism polymeric systems based on methanotrophic polyhydroxyalkanoate production for the closed-loop manufacturing of tools. Before starting his graduate work at Stanford, he studied mechanical engineering and chemistry at Colorado School of Mines where he created block copolymer materials for hydrogen fuel cell membranes and computed degradation mechanisms for small molecule bis-azide species. He also worked as a design engineer at RICOH where he designed, 3D printed, and tested small parts for improving large-scale ink-jet printer functions. Vince likes to hike and carve wood in his free time. 

Spencer is originally from Colorado Springs. He received a B.S. in biochemistry from Brigham Young University - Idaho. Currently, he is pursuing a Ph. D in Biochemistry at Utah State University.

Alex graduated from Georgetown University in 2014 with a B.S. in Environmental Biology with a focus in community ecology. Following graduation, he moved to the University of Kentucky to study how bacterial symbionts mediate insect ecology in agricultural systems.

Now, pursuing a PhD in Plant Biology at UC Berkeley, Alex studies plant-associated microbial communities from shoots to roots. In cassava, a tropical root crop, Alex  investigates the phyllosphere ecology and carryover of the microbiome between planting seasons. For CUBES, he aims to construct synthetic bacterial communities via host-mediated selection to better grow rice in space. As both a Trekkie and wannabe farmer, Alex is very excited to be a member of FPSD.

Anya is a graduate student at the University of Florida getting her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering with Professor Menezes. Her interests include the application of synthetic biology for medical use in space to better support human space exploration.

Prior to the University of Florida, she received her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University in New York City, where she also competed as the Payload Lead on the university’s rockets team. There, Anya also worked on developing microfluidic devices for cancer diagnostics.

She is originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and in her spare time enjoys painting and arts and crafts!

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.

Kevin is a first year PhD student in Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Davis. He works in the McDonald-Nandi lab, where he develops recombinant plant cell wall degrading enzymes within the scope of NASA's CUBES project. Kevin earned a BS in Chemical Engineering with minors in Electrical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences from Michigan Technological University.