Invited Experts

Don Petit

Donald Petit, a NASA Astronaut, was selected by NASA in 1996. The Silverton, Oregon native holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Oregon State University and a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering from the University of Arizona. Prior to becoming an astronaut, he worked as a staff scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico. A veteran of three spaceflights, Pettit served as NASA Science Officer for Expedition 6 in 2003, operated the robotic arm for STS-126 in 2008 and served as a Flight Engineer for Expedition 30/31 in 2012, where he lived aboard the International Space Station for more than 6 months. While in space, Dr. Petit collaborated with the American Physical Society to demonstrate unique physical properties that occur on the International Space Station. He also joined the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) in 2006, spending six weeks in the Antarctic summer collecting meteorite samples.

Brian Malow

Brian Malow is Earth’s Premier Science Comedian (self-proclaimed).  He has performed for NSF, AAAS, JPL, NIST, ACS, AGU – and many other acronyms. Brian has produced science videos for Time Magazine and the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings and he has contributed to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio.  He gives workshops and presentations to train scientists to become better speakers. He’s been featured on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, co-hosted shows on The Weather Channel, and been profiled in Nature, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Brian worked in science communications at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, and blogged for Scientific American.  He is currently freelancing as a speaker, performer, consultant, writer, producer, and whatnot. Available for off-world appearances, if trans­portation is provided.

Mika McKinnon

Mika McKinnon is a Canadian field geophysicist, disaster researcher, and science communicator. She is currently a co-investigator of the SETI Institute's Project ESPRESSO and science adviser to the science fiction television series Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe. She was a contributing editor for Gawker Media, providing coverage on popular science topics for io9 and later became a science writer for Gizmodo. Her bylines cover a range of topics including space exploration, dinosaur discovery, the convergence of science and art, and disaster preparedness. Her writing appearing outlets like in Wired UK, Smithsonian Magazine, Ars Technica, and Astronomy. She currently volunteers for the National Academy of Sciences Science & Entertainment Exchange, providing subject matter expertise to the entertainment industry for more accurate depictions of science in the media. She has experience as a physics lobbyist for the American Institute of Physics, an analyist for FEMA, and has ongoing roles in emergency management in her community.

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Craig Cohen is the executive producer and host of Houston Matters, which airs weekdays at noon and 7 p.m. on Houston Public Media, News 88.7 FM. Craig is a 20+ year veteran of broadcast journalism. He’s spent the bulk of his career in public media, in roles ranging from programmer and manager, to talk show host, reporter, news director, and producer. He’s interviewed politicians, industry leaders, authors, newsmakers, and the occasional Muppet. Craig seeks to make the world a slightly better place every day, by informing, enlightening, and entertaining.

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Alex Stuckey is the NASA, science and environment reporter for the Houston Chronicle. Stuckey won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for her work on a project examining the rampant mishandling of sexual assault reports at Utah colleges while working for The Salt Lake Tribune. She is an Investigative Reporters and Editors award winner and a Livingston Award Finalist. An Ohio native, Stuckey has lived in five states since graduating from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in 2012. She is an avid runner, bookworm and lover of elephants. She likes puppies more than people.


Stephen Linder is the Associate Director of the Texas Medical Center’s Health Policy Institute, founding Director of the Institute for Health Policy at the UT Health School of Public Health in Houston and a UT System Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Management, Policy, and Community Health at the School of Public Health. Dr. Linder received his PhD in political science from the University of Iowa, with faculty appointments at UCLA and Tulane before coming to the University of Texas. He chairs the governing board of Mental Health America of Greater Houston and serves as a member of the Texas Environmental Research Consortium’s Board, the Advisory Board for BridgeUp at Menninger Clinic, and the Steering Committee of the National Network of State and Local Surveys. He is currently the Principal Investigator (PI) of the Healthy Cities Research Hub for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and PI for the Health of Houston 2017-18 Survey.

Bio Photo Diana Marques

Diana Marques has been a visual science communicator for nearly 15 years, working in a variety of scientific subjects and techniques, for museums, publishers, and researchers. Her illustrations, animations, and information graphics can be seen in postal stamps from the United Nations, on some of the major museums and in many scientific journals. Diana recently completed a PhD in Digital Media. Her doctoral research took place at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum and focused on the visitors' experience with augmented reality technology. Visit for more information.

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Brianna Rapini graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in biology. She earned her master's degree from Sam Houston State University in educational administration, and she is currently working on supplemental graduate hours in biology at Clemson University. In her public school education career, Brianna has been an AP Biology/biology teacher, campus science instructional specialist, district science program coordinator, and instructional technology specialist. In 2013, Brianna and her sister (Sarina Peterson) created The Amoeba Sisters YouTube channel which features engaging, short cartoons to communicate biology. The YouTube channel has communicated biology in over thirty million cumulative views, and the video subtitles have been translated into over twenty languages. The endeavor became a full-time job for both Brianna and Sarina in 2017, and they additionally have expanded to create science comics, GIFs, and educational resources.

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Sarina Peterson graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor's degree in economics in 2010. She holds a master's degree from the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service in public policy with concentrations in nonprofit management and education policy. Before graduating, Sarina won second prize at the A&M university-wide Raymond Idea Challenge for a STEM-based video game, and she published a paper on using games in STEM education at Virginia's Center of Excellence in Education. Following her internship at Virginia's Center of Excellence in Education, Sarina worked in Dallas ISD as a program evaluation analyst for four years where she conducted a wide variety of educational research. In 2013, Sarina and her sister (Brianna Rapini) created a science YouTube channel called The Amoeba Sisters. While the endeavor was originally intended to be a hobby, it grew into a full-time career in 2017. The channel has communicated biology in over thirty million cumulative views with over a quarter of a million active subscribers.

Ana Rodriguez

Ana María Rodriguez, a scientist who became a writer, began her career as a science writer by taking college-level writing courses and learning how to write nonfiction content for children, specifically focused on science, animals and nature. She is the author of 26 children’s books and 80 magazine articles, which cover everything from scorpion-eating meerkats to the science behind bird intelligence. Reviewers have said that her writing is ‘highly engaging, lively and presented in a creative manner.’ Although she enjoyed writing about complex topics for younger audiences, Rodríguez remained interested in biomedical research. In her current role as a science writer at Baylor College of Medicine, she works with researchers to communicate their latest findings to both scientists and non-scientists alike. She manages From the Labs, Baylor’s basic science newsletter that highlights research progress at the college.

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Rekha Lakshmanan, MHA, is the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for The Immunization Partnership, a statewide non-profit organization that aims to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases. Lakshmanan is a prolific science communicator, and has written multiple articles on vaccine policy and Texas Health law. Before joining The Immunization Partnership, Lakshmanan worked 14 years at Merck, where she was a Specialty Sales Representative, Senior Vaccine Specialist, and Account Executive. At Merck, Lakshmanan worked with cross-functional teams to grow and sustain Merck’s vaccine business with pediatric and public sector providers including the launch of four new products, facilitated partnerships between key disparate influential advocates such as teaching institutions and state organizations to implement leading collaborations on future initiatives, and conducted disease awareness and education presentations with business decision leaders and clinicians to ensure Merck’s vaccine portfolio were utilized and integrated appropriately in the organizations’ preventative health program.

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Huda Zoghbi, M.D., is Professor of Pediatrics, Neurology, Neuroscience, and Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine, an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the founding Director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital. She has worked on the genetic underpinnings of rare neurological diseases and advanced our understanding of brain disorders. Zoghbi’s work on Rett Syndrome and spinocerebellar ataxia Type 1, rare brain disorders, have also significantly advancing research of more common conditions including childhood disorders such as autism, and adult-onset neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. She has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among Dr. Zoghbi’s recent honors are the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize from Rockefeller University, the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology, the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Canada Gairdner International Prize, and Honorary degrees from Yale University, Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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Daniel Cohan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University. His research specializes in the development of photochemical models and their application to air quality management, uncertainty analysis, energy policy, and health impact studies. Before joining Rice, Dr. Cohan worked for the Air Protection Branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. He received a B.A. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University, a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Chemistry from Georgia Tech, and served as a Fulbright Scholar to Australia at the Cooperative Research Centre for Southern Hemisphere Meteorology. Dr. Cohan is a recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER young investigator award and past member of the NASA Air Quality Applied Sciences Team.

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Stavana Strutz is a science communication program coordinator for the Gulf Coast Carbon Center at The University of Texas. She specializes in science communication via radio, blogging, public talks, and teaching. She holds a Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from UT Austin where she studied the effects of climate change on a newly emerging disease in the U.S.

Liz Kruesi

Liz Kruesi [] is a freelance science writer and editor who specializes in astronomy and physics. She studied physics and astrophysics, but quickly found herself leaving behind mathematical equations to instead obsess over the stories to bring the cosmos to more people. Her work has appeared in Discover, Quanta Magazine, Popular Science,, Astronomy (where she is a Contributing Editor), New Scientist, Symmetry, Physics World, and Drone360. She has also written five books for children about astronomy and space exploration. Liz has presented at Nerd Nite Austin, and has been an invited guest on the popular radio show Science Friday. She is happiest writing about the intersection of different disciplines, and how that interaction reveals something previously unknown.

Anneli Joplin
Anneli Joplin is the Instructor of Visual Communication & Design for the Program in Writing & Communication at Rice University. Anneli received her BS in Chemistry from Missouri State University in 2012 and her PhD in Chemistry from Rice University in 2017 where she was also a recipient of the NSF graduate research fellowship. During graduate school, Anneli nurtured her longstanding interest in graphic design as a freelance illustrator and animator for a number of technical projects, and she still enjoys finding creative ways to communicate complex scientific stories with visuals. In her current role, she teaches workshops on topics related to visual communication including conference poster design, digital illustrations, and data visualization.