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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.
 

Dexter is a first year Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering at UC Davis in the McDonald-Nandi Lab. He received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University, New York and his B.A. in Chemistry from University of Puget Sound, Washington through a Dual Degree Program. He is currently developing stable lines of transgenic lettuce, which express a parathyroid hormone fusion protein.

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. 
 

Wakuna is a PhD candidate in the environmental engineering program working with Prof. Craig Criddle. Her research focuses on the microbial degradation of methane in mixtures (biogas and natural gas) for the production of biodegradable polymers called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). Wakuna is interested in understanding the impact these methane mixtures have on microbial communities, the dynamics between the microbial interactions under certain complex conditions, while optimizing the polymer production process and bacterial growth rates. In addition to research, Wakuna is quite passionate about tutoring and mentoring.

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. 
 

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.

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. 
 

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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. 
 

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.

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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.

Kyle Valgardson bachelors of science Biochemistry from Utah Valley University and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in biochemistry at Utah State University.

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.

Yongao (Mary) Xiong is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering at UC Davis in the McDonald-Nandi Lab (http://mcdonald-nandi.ech.ucdavis.edu). She received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from University of Washington, Seattle. She has mastered in recombinant protein production, purification, and functional characterizations using plant systems. Her work includes the process optimization of transient protein expression in leaves/cells utilizing agrobacteria-mediated gene transfer, chromatography method development (resin and membrane-based), and bioassay design. In addition, she is investigating approaches to modify and control protein N-glycosylation profile through subcellular targeting, the incorporation of glycan processing enzyme inhibitors and in vitro enzymatic treatment. Mary examines the effects of N-glycosylation on protein properties and molecular structures. She has started working on fine tuning of downstream process engineering of the recombinant PTH-Fc and functional characterizations using a combination of label-free protein-based assay and cell-based assays.

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.

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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.