Attendee Profiles


Meet the inaugural ComSciCon LA 2021 awesome attendees!


krystalKrystal Vasquez

Krystal Vasquez is a PhD Candidate at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) studying atmospheric chemistry. Her research focuses on developing field instrumentation that can be used to assess how local air quality is impacted when urban pollution mixes with local biogenic emissions. Previously, she received her B.S. in chemistry from the University of California, Riverside. Alongside her research, she also advocates for the creation of more inclusive environments in STEM. After she graduates, she’s hoping to enter the field of science communication.




isabelle rosenthalIsabelle Rosenthal

Isabelle Rosenthal is a graduate student in Computation and Neural Systems at Caltech. A dual citizen born in Los Angeles, she spent several years in France as a child. In 2016, she graduated in 2016 from Wellesley College with a B.A. in Neuroscience. Before attending Caltech, Isabelle was a lab manager at the NIH, where she researched the neuroscience of color vision. She now works in Dr. Richard Andersen's neural prosthetics lab, studying tactile sensations. Her focus is on using human brain recordings to better understand how the brain constructs conscious experiences from varied sensory inputs.


piero chiappinaPiero Chiappino

I am is a 2nd-year physics PhD student at Caltech. I was born and raised in Atlanta, and I did my undergrad in physics and electrical engineering at Georgia Tech. My research interests are in quantum technology, i.e. developing devices which exploit the laws of quantum mechanics in new and interesting ways. Currently my focus is on photonic and phononic integrated circuits for quantum computing applications.




Jessica MaccaroJessica Maccaro

I am a first year PhD Student in the entomology department at UCR. In the McFrederick Lab I study Ascosphaera, a fungi that only associates with bees and can range from harmless to pathogenic. My research focuses on the evolution of pathogenicity and genomic signatures of coevolution between the fungi and bees. I'm also passionate about combining science and art. Insects4Inclusion is an ongoing SciComm project I founded in collaboration with Magda Argueta-Guzman. We sell insect art, photography, natural history and music to raise money for scholarships that increase inclusivity in entomology. Check us out at!



alba menendez peredaAlba Menéndez Pereda

Alba Menéndez Pereda is a PhD candidate in the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA where she specializes in Inca archaeology. She holds a BA from Durham University, and an MPhil from the University of Cambridge. Alba’s doctoral research examines Inca funerary traditions in relation to the landscape and practices of remembrance. She has conducted fieldwork and worked with museums in England, Italy, Spain, and Peru as part of academic and cultural resource management projects. Alba is strongly interested in public engagement and manages and creates content for the social media accounts of various research groups.


alex meiburgAlex Meiburg

I'm a 3rd graduate student at UCSB in computational physics. I study the algorithms and complexity theory of quantum physics: how 'easy' or 'hard' various questions are to computer the answer to within the quantum world. So, my interests often spill over into computer science. Specifically, my recent work has been on quantum state tomography, and Gaussian matrix product states.




bela abolfathiBela Abolfathi

Bela is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Irvine where she studies observational cosmology. She is working on two upcoming surveys, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument and the Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time, both of which seek to investigate the dynamical behavior of dark energy. Her interest in science communication stems from a desire to dispel fears people may have in their ability to understand or participate in science. In addition to her research she is involved in mentoring undergraduates in physics and has written for The Loh Down on Science on NPR.



bryan scottBryan Scott

Bryan Scott is a PhD Candidate in Physics at the University of California, Riverside. His research is in observational cosmology, using galaxies as a tool for understanding the history and origin of the universe. He is also a science educator and passionate advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in physics and astronomy.





daniel pollakDaniel Pollak

I am a first year graduate student in neurobiology at Caltech. I am interested in what the brain does while animals perform natural behaviors, and I've recorded brain electricity from zebra finches, mantis shrimp, and various creepy crawlies while they did a few such behaviors. I am interested in what collaboration between graduate students and high school students might look like, and I am working on doing insect neuroscience with public high school students in Pasadena.



danielle stevensonDanielle Stevenson

Danielle Stevenson is an environmental scientist with a background in applied mycology, soil science, food and agriculture. Her work and research focus on problem-solving in the areas of ecological remediation, toxicology, food security, environmental justice, public health and waste management in a changing climate. Danielle’s research focus currently is on how fungi can protect agricultural crops from toxic metals and enhance phytoremediation in the Environmental Toxicology graduate program at the University of California, Riverside. Her passion for science communication via community workshops, writing and outreach are shared through her ongoing projects Healing City Soils and DIY Fungi, among others.


elise tookmanianElise Tookmanian

Elise is a Chemistry graduate student at Caltech studying how specific membrane components protect bacteria under stressful conditions. To manage her own stress, she stays active with yoga and pets her cat. She is the current managing editor of Caltech Letters and enjoys helping scientists share their ideas and research. She is passionate about making a difference in her local community, and last year, she cofounded an antiracism discussion group in her lab.




fayth tanFayth Tan

Fayth is a graduate student in Biology at Caltech, and has a BS in Marine Biology from UC San Diego. Their current research involves studying how animals evolved (or lost) the ability to regenerate various body parts. Besides attempting to replicate 19th century experiments in the lab, Fayth’s interests lie in science history and philosophy, especially that of organismal and evolutionary biology.





grace liGrace Li

I am a second year PhD student in mathematics at UCLA. My research interests are dynamical systems and network science, and their combination in models of opinion dynamics. I am motivated by how this research can provide insight on mitigating the spread of misinformation and promoting the diversity of ideas online. In today's world, various online forms of communication such as social media can be used to foster distrust in science, and I want to learn how to better use these forms of communication to achieve the opposite outcome and foster engagement and interest in science.



gwendolyn priceGwendolyn Price

Gwen is a Ph.D. candidate in developmental psychology at UCLA. Her research is currently focused on language development in children from infancy to early childhood. She also holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. Her science communication projects have included outreach events in schools and large science events to writing articles with UCLA’s Psych in Action group, all to bring scientific findings to the public.




jessica howardJessica Howard

Jessica is a PhD candidate in the Physics and Astronomy department at UC Irvine and an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. Her research is in particle physics which aims to build a mathematical understanding of the forces of the universe. She does this by studying interactions of the universe's smallest constituents: subatomic particles. Her research has two main components: developing possible mathematical models for particle interactions and using methods from machine learning to better test such models. Outside of research, she likes to share her passion for physics with the general public by applying her artistic skills through various outreach projects.



kayla y limKayla Y Lim

Originally from Singapore, Kayla is currently a first-year graduate student in UCLA's Molecular Cellular and Integrative Physiology. She is broadly interested in the cells and neural circuits underlying adaptive behaviors in health and neuropsychiatric disorders, and is passionate about increasing the public and community engagement of science. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors, recipe testing, and teaching her cat to use words.



kelly oneilKelly O'Neil

Kelly Kosmo O'Neil is a PhD student working with Andrea Ghez and Tuan Do as part of the UCLA Galactic Center Group. She received her B.S. in Astrophysics at UCLA in 2015. Her current research focuses on using stellar orbits at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy to (1) probe the distribution of dark matter at the Galactic center, and (2) to investigate whether General Relativity is the complete description of gravity around a supermassive black hole.






kathryn plantKathryn Plant

I’m interested in the highest-energy particles accelerated in our Galaxy-- where they come from, what their composition is, and how they shape our Galaxy. These particles, called cosmic rays, can be observed from the radio signals they cause when they collide with our atmosphere. The cosmic ray radio flashes are only a few nanoseconds long, and so I'm building special ways of processing signals from hundreds of radio antennas, in order to catch the cosmic rays as they appear. More broadly, I'm interested in novel signal-processing and remote-sensing techniques. I’m in my fourth year of my astronomy PhD at Caltech.


rachel kellyRachel Kelly

Rachel is a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Southern California. She is a Chemical Oceanographer who is particularly interested in studying metals (like iron, zinc, nickel, etc.) in the world’s oceans. Metals in seawater are important because they can either serve as a nutrient or be toxic to marine organisms (such as phytoplankton). For the past few summers, Rachel has served on the leadership team of a STEM program that recruits local LA high school students, from underrepresented groups, to conduct their own research project with a USC Ph.D. student mentor.



Lev Tsypinlev tsypin

I'm a Russian immigrant, and I'm a fourth-year Biology PhD student at Caltech by way of undergrad at UChicago. My favorite part of science is talking and writing through ideas with other people, and so science communication is always on my mind. With my friends at Caltech, I co-created the Caltech Letters: Biosphere podcast, in which we bridge the conceptual and emotional aspects of biological research. Right now, my research focuses on how bacteria use electricity in their natural environments, but my dearest organisms are the ciliates, and I'd love to talk your ear off about them.




lizvette villafanaLizvette Villafaña

Lizvette Villafaña is a first year Astronomy Ph.D. student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She is currently working with Tommaso Treu to model the Broad Line Region in AGNs and investigate the way we calibrate black hole masses across cosmic time. Before starting her Ph.D. program, Lizvette received her M.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California (USC) where she primarily focused on nano-satellite control systems and actively participated in outreach activities through the USC Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) chapter. Now that she has returned to the field of Astronomy, she is excited to continue her outreach efforts in hopes of reaching underrepresented communities to help diversify STEM.


shawn wenjie tangShawn Wenjie Tang

Shawn is a sixth-year graduate student hailing from the sunny island of Singapore. He graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2015 with a B.Sc. (Hons) in Physics and a fascination with plasmas led him to his current pursuit of a Ph.D. in experimental plasma physics at UCLA. His current research focuses on investigating spiky structures found in magnetic flux ropes created in UCLA's Large Plasma Device. In his free time, Shawn enjoys creative endeavors such as crafting, prop making, graphic design and illustration. He believes art has the potential to deliver a strong impact through visual storytelling.




daniel olivarez zambranoDaniel Olivares-Zambrano

My name is Daniel Olivares-Zambrano and I am currently a MS biology student studying rockfish speciation at CSULA in the Aguilar Lab. I am the child of Mexican immigrants from Michoacán, and grew up in East LA and Rialto California. Much like my parents ventured out of their home to start a new life, I left my home to get my BS in Biology at CSUMB, get research experiences in different states and study abroad in Spain. I am now an incoming PhD student for the Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography Program at USC in the Cnidarian Evolutionary Ecology Lab.


brian leeBrian Lee

I am a graduate student studying battery chemistry at Caltech. My research project studies ionic conduction through solid materials for alternate battery technology. I was born and raised in Korea before moving to Singapore, eventually settling in Minnesota. Working with local public schools, I am involved in outreach programs to inform and inspire young students about energy-related science.





max fiegMax Fieg

I am a currently a graduate student in particle physics at University of California, Irvine. I am interested in publicizing science so more people can understand how important and amazing the method is, and learn about all the unexpected things we've learned about the world.






my huaMy Hua

My (Crystal) Hua is a graduate student in the Environmental Toxicology program at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). She is currently examining the health effects associated with various electronic cigarette refill fluids reported to cause sickness using informatics approaches and analyzing data collected from human studies. For the past five years, Crystal has been actively involved in science communication outreach events where she educates the public on the health effects associated with electronic cigarette use.



michelle leeMichelle Lee

Hi there! My name is Michelle (she/her) and I am a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara studying community ecology. I look for the most important ecosystem variables that drive plant-pollinator interactions and resulting pollination. These important drivers could tell us more broadly about the resilience of ecosystem structure in the context of human disturbances. Currently, I explore science communication through my campus’s newspaper. My goal is to empower students and the general public to engage with and discuss science. I’m excited to work with you all during this workshop and further develop my communication skills!



marziye jafariyazaniMarziye Jafariyazani

I am a sixth year PhD student in Astronomy at UC Riverside, and a graduate research fellow at Carnegie Observatories. I will join IPAC/Caltech as a postdoc from summer. As an observational astronomer, I study different populations of distant galaxies to understand their formation and evolution processes. Besides astronomy, I have a deep passion for teaching, education and public outreach, and I have been involved in many educational efforts during my undergrad and graduate years. My goal is to become an astronomer who contribute to the society through scientistic achievements and enhancing equitable education for students and general public


manisha kapasiawalaManisha Kapasiawala

Manisha is a second-year PhD student in Bioengineering at Caltech. A New Jersey native, Manisha received her BSE in Chemical & Biological Engineering at Princeton. At Caltech, her research focuses on engineering novel mechanisms for motility in synthetic cells. Manisha is interested in expanding science outreach and education to non-English speaking and adult audiences.




michelle lepori buiMichelle Lepori-Bui

I am finishing my last year as a master’s student investigating the evolutionary response of algal metabolism to climate change. I plan to move to Seattle after my degree and am searching for a job that combines environmental management and outreach. Prior to graduate school, I worked as a research assistant studying environmental, social, and ecological effectiveness of agricultural best management practices in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I also spent a year as an environmental educator in Marin County, CA. My undergraduate degree is in Environmental Science from the University of Delaware.




natalie paterson

Natalie Paterson

Natalie Paterson has a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a minor in nutrition from Chapman University, Orange. Here she is currently pursuing an M.S. in Food Science and Nutrition and aims to earn a PhD in the field of nutrigenetics/nutrigenomics in the future. At Chapman, Natalie teaches undergraduate nutrition courses, is an active executive board chair of two STEM clubs, and conducts research on how maternal genetics impacts the essential fatty-acid content of human milk and how this relationship alters infant health and developmental outcomes.




natalie saragosa harris

Natalie Saragosa-Harris

Natalie Saragosa-Harris is a second year PhD student at UCLA studying developmental cognitive neuroscience. Her work focuses on how early experiences shape later brain development in adolescence and early adulthood. In particular, she is interested in how the adolescent brain processes novelty, reward, and uncertainty. She has worked with fellow neuroscientists and lawmakers to integrate research on adolescent brain development into juvenile justice reform.


nora wolcottNora Wolcott

Nora is currently a Doctoral Student of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at UC Santa Barbara. Her research in the Goard Lab exploits powerful multiphoton in vivo imaging technology to examine the pathological mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases, as well as the broader circuitry dynamics involved in spatial navigation.





sophia charanSophia Charan

Sophia is a fifth year Chemical Engineering graduate student at Caltech, where she studies the chemical formation of particulate matter and the reactors we use to understand the atmosphere. Currently, she focuses on non-traditional sources of urban aerosols, such as those that originate from personal care products. Sophia got her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Yale and co-hosts the podcast Not My Thesis, which explores the published and unpublished parts of science.


shane coffieldShane Coffield

I'm Shane (pronouns he/him), a 4th year graduate student in Earth System Science at UC Irvine. For my PhD thesis I am quantifying climate change impacts on California's ecosystems, including how forest carbon stocks and wildfire risk will change over this century. One of my priorities beyond doing the research is making it accessible to relevant stakeholders such as local communities and policymakers.




shannon essweinShannon Esswein

Shannon is an a biochemist investigating the molecular basis of the immune response against viruses responsible for causing epidemics, including Zika, dengue, West Nile Virus, yellow fever virus, and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic. She earned her M.Phil. at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar and is currently in the UCLA-Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program. Apart from her research, Shannon enjoys reading, writing, advocating for women in STEM, and tutoring underserved students.



siobhan macardleSiobhán MacArdle

Siobhán MacArdle was born in Berkeley, California and attended Barnard College where she received a B.A. in Biochemistry. During her undergraduate education, Siobhán worked in Professor Buzzeo’s lab at Barnard and was a distilling intern at Kings County Whiskey Distillery in Brooklyn. Siobhán began pursuing her PhD at Caltech in 2015 and is a member of the Rees group studying the mechanism of Nitrogenase, an enzyme that inspires solutions to our global energy crisis. While pursuing her PhD, Siobhán has founded and authors the Instagram account @periodicallydrinkingchemicals, which illustrates and describes the biochemistry of wine and spirits.



Yi-Li LamYi-Li Lam

Yi-Li received her bachelor and master degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology at UC Santa Barbara where she studied small molecule aggregation inhibition. She is currently interested in the cellular and molecular basis of neuropsychological disease.









lily chengYou (Lily) Cheng

Lily is a PhD Candidate in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of California, Irvine. She is interested in how human brain works during wayfinding and how does environment influence people’s cognition. She has a multidisciplinary background, with a B.S. in Psychology, an M.A. in Geography, and an M.S. in Cognitive Neuroscience.




zoe leeZoe Lee

Zoe is a first-year PhD student studying cognitive neuroscience at UCLA. Her research interests revolve around the centuries-old problem of consciousness: how does our unique, subjective experience arise from the physical activity of the brain and body? Using neuroimaging, psychometrics, and various advanced statistical methods, she is on a search for the neural and computational bases of phenomenological experience. She is passionate about sharing the wonders of the human mind and how they can be seen in every aspect of our lives (in art, movies, politics, grocery stores...). Outside of academia, Zoe loves to spend time in nature, whether that's hiking in the mountains or chilling at the beach.



zoe guttmanZoe Guttman

I am a Neuroscience PhD student at UCLA, where I investigate the cognitive and neural underpinnings of why we make choices not always in our best interests. My research combines cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics to understand decision-making under situations of uncertainty, both in the general population and in those with addictive disorders. I am also enthusiastic about science policy and communication, having co-founded the NeuroComm Group and Science Policy Group at UCLA, and currently acting as co-chair of the National Science Policy Network Western Hub and contributing editor at Knowing Neurons, where I am developing a science policy column.



yuki hebnerYuki Hebner

Yuki earned her BA and MA in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Wesleyan University before starting her PhD in Gene Regulation, Epigenomics, and Transcriptomics at UCLA. In the lab of Dr. de la Torre-Ubieta, she studies chromatin remodeling during human cortical development to understand the epigenetic mechanisms underlying psychiatric disease. She is passionate about exploring chromatin biology and neurodevelopment, and is also motivated to advocate for the incorporation of the existing science to help guide problem solving in society. Yuki is the VP of the Science Policy Group at UCLA, and a contributor for the blog Knowing Neurons.



xinyu liXinyu Li

Kiwi/Chinese, grad student in the Campbell Lab at UC Irvine. Interested in plant-pollinator interactions after disturbance - particularly the fire-y kind - in southern Californian landscapes. Current Hive member/writer for the Loh Down on Science. I write and draw in my spare time and am looking to add a dash of SciComm to these hobbies!



solena mednicoffSolena Mednicoff

My name is Solena Mednicoff and I am in my final year as a PhD candidate at UC Irvine!  I study Cognitive Neuroscience with a focus on Music Cognition. I also studied Neuroscience in my undergraduate at University of Nevada, Reno (go pack!). I’m interested in the neuroscience behind why we enjoy music, and I’m a huge advocate for STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS, and Math! 




viraj karambelkarViraj Karambelkar

I am a graduate student in the Astronomy department at Caltech. I have an undergraduate degree in Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. My researches focuses on studying the dynamic universe - explosions and variations in stars. In particular, my group focuses on studying the dynamic universe in the infrared light. I also write for Astrobites.




will hofferWill Hoffer

Will Hoffer studies mathematical physics and fractal geometry as a mathematics PhD student at the University of California, Riverside. His current research involves the phenomenon of resurgence in asymptotic analysis, and he studies how the discoveries and techniques therein can be used to investigate the geometric oscillations and spectra of fractals. He is also learning how to foster diversity and hospitality in his field, as he strives to make mathematics more accessible and welcoming— especially to those who might otherwise be pushed away.



conner s philsonConner S. Philson

Conner S. Philson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA studying the evolution and consequences of social structure using the yellow-bellied marmot population at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Colorado. He is driven by the need to understand and protect biodiversity of flora and fauna across the globe. In pursuit of this goal and in addition to his science, Conner has engaged in science policy. Collaboratively, he has published a number of policy memos and worked with leaders across Los Angeles and California to help protect the natural environment.



dayanniDayanni Devi Bhagwandin

Dayanni Devi Bhagwandin is a Chemistry PhD Candidate at UCLA. Dayanni works in the Rubin Lab studying ways to make novel electronic materials from organic precursors. She hopes that this work can lead the way for green-efficient atomically precise manufacturing. Dayanni is also working on chemical education research chapter for her thesis. Her most recent work looks at successful strategies for enhancing student engagement in remote learning. Dayanni believes that science communication is the key to bridging the gap between the public inquiry and research. In the future, she hopes to work at the intersection of science, policy, and education.