Invited Experts


Akiko Iwasaki, PhD

Akiko Iwasaki, PhD

Professor Akiko Iwasaki has made major discoveries in innate anti-viral and mucosal immunity that have resulted in paradigm shifts in the understanding of the immune response to pathogens as well as in vaccine design. Her research focuses on the mechanisms of immune defense against viruses at mucosal surfaces, which are a major site of entry for infectious agents. The knowledge gained in her lab can be used to design more effective vaccines or microbicides to prevent transmission of viral and bacterial pathogens. 


Professor Iwasaki’s research group developed a new vaccine strategy, termed “Prime and Pull”, that can be used to treat those infected with virus, unlike many vaccines that are given preventatively. This method is currently under phase 2 clinical trials for the treatment of high grade cervical lesions caused by infection human papillomavirus (HPV).


Professor Iwasaki received her Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Toronto and completed her postdoctoral training with the National Institutes of Health before joining Yale’s faculty in 2000. She has received numerous awards and honors, including the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award in Biomedical Sciences, the Wyeth Lederle Young Investigator Award, the BD Biosciences Investigator Award, and the Seymour & Vivian Milstein Award for Excellence in Interferon and Cytokine Research. Professor Iwasaki has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator since 2014, a prestigious honor that provides the researcher long-term, flexible funding that gives them to freedom to explore new avenues of research. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2018, and to the National Academy of Medicine in 2019. Dr. Iwasaki is also well known for her Twitter advocacy on women and underrepresented minority in the science and medicine fields.


Currently, Professor Iwasaki is directing translational immunology team to investigate the role of immune response in COVID-19 disease outcome. She also co-directs the IMPACT (Implementing medical and public health actions against coronavirus in Connecticut) team to generate an extensive biorepository for specimens collected from patients and health care workers, as well as implementing viral testing in both groups.


Science Policy/Advocacy:

Kara Fikrig

Kara Fikrig is a Ph.D. candidate in the Entomology Department at Cornell University studying mosquitoes. She is a dedicated science advocate, driven by the increasing political polarization of science, which she views as an existential threat to creating a healthy, sustainable world. As a graduate student, Kara has sought opportunities to advocate for science funding and research. She was introduced to science advocacy through a Hill Day visit with Cornell’s Advancing Science and Policy (ASAP) graduate club. Meeting with Congressional staffers got her excited about science advocacy, so the next semester, she took a science policy course and got more involved with ASAP, later becoming a board member. In the past year, Kara has been involved in four virtual advocacy events to advocate for co-sponsorship of particular bills and funding of certain science programs. She got involved with these events through several avenues, including ASAP, Cornell Federal Relations, a malaria non-profit, and the Center of Excellence in Vector-borne Diseases. She is also the student representative to the Entomological Society of America Science Policy Committee, where she serves on the position statement subcommittee, which oversees and facilitates the development of expert-informed positions statements that advocate for specific action from Congress.

Kristin Hook, PhD

Born and raised in South Texas as a descendant of Mexican immigrants, Kristin Hook is an unlikely scientist. The first in her family to hold a professional degree, Kristin earned her Ph.D. in Neurobiology & Behavior from Cornell University in 2016 and shortly after moved to Washington, D.C., where she spent four years as a postdoc studying sperm evolution and was introduced to the wonderful world of science policy. Her active interest in a full-time career in science policy was sparked when she had a tweet thread using an evidence-based approach to address immigration policy go viral, leading to an invited op-ed in the Houston Chronicle. She is currently a Congressional Science & Technology Policy Fellow sponsored by the American Statistical Association working on oversight issues in the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren. Kristin is strongly committed to social justice causes, is passionate about making science accessible, and has over a decade of experience communicating technical concepts in engaging ways to diverse lay audiences. Prior to graduate school, Kristin spent three years as a middle school science teacher in Brooklyn, NY through Teach for America. She earned her B.S. in Biology with Special Honors and B.A. in Plan II Honors (an interdisciplinary humanities program) at the University of Texas at Austin.

Marika Nell, PhD

Marika Nell, PhD, is an environmental engineer and CCST Science and Technology Policy Fellow who works in the California State Assembly. Previously, she earned her Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering at Cornell University where she studied emerging contaminants in water and wastewater. Her research focused on identifying unknown chemicals in fracking wastewaters, a topic that can be highly technical and highly politicized. During her time in graduate school, she saw the need for science communication when talking with stakeholders who had different and extreme views on fracking. Now, as a committee consultant for the California Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, she uses science communication to convey scientific topics to policymakers and stakeholders as she staffs bills and analyzes legislation related to drinking water, wastewater, and chemicals in consumer products. Outside of work, she enjoys hiking, climbing, gardening, and baking.


Social Media:

Michael Feigin, PhD

Mike is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, NY. He grew up on Long Island and earned his BS in Biology from Cornell University, doing undergraduate research on Golgi dynamics. Mike returned to Long Island and received his PhD in Pharmacology from Stony Brook University where he studied the role of G-protein coupled receptors in the Wnt signaling pathway. He then moved down the expressway to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for postdoctoral training in pancreatic cancer biology, before crossing NY again for his current faculty position in Buffalo. His lab studies gene regulation and cell signaling in pancreatic cancer. Outside of the lab, Mike enjoys going on bike rides and exploring the parks of Western NY with his family, trying to find bagels that remind him of home, and fundraising with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. He also organizes the Buffalo chapter of Pint of Science, bringing scientists into the community for discussions with science enthusiasts. You can find him trying to be funny on Twitter @mikefeigin.

Danielle Twum, PhD

From Ghana, West Africa, Danielle Twum received her B.A. in Biology from Vassar College where she studied the effects of climate change on coral bleaching. Danielle received her PhD in Cancer Immunology from the University at Buffalo where she studied the immunology of breast cancer metastasis. She currently works as a Molecular Science Liaison at Caris Life Sciences. Dr. Twum is a AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador, an initiative aimed at increasing visibility of women in STEM as role models for young girls. If she is not reading, you’ll find Dr. Twum enjoying Indian and Korean food, having a dance party to some old school kpop or getting lost in the wormhole that is the BBC Earth YouTube channel. 

Rob Swanda

Rob is a PhD candidate in the field of Biomedical & Biological Sciences (BBS) with a concentration in biochemistry in Dr. Shu-Bing Qian’s laboratory.  He is originally from New York and received his B.S. from Syracuse University in May 2016 before joining the BBS program later that summer. Rob is currently finishing his research on the mechanistic details of translation regulation in response to nutrient stress, while utilizing this mechanism to design mRNAs that can trigger nutrient stress/cell death in cancer. Outside of the lab, Rob enjoys making science accessible through various platforms including short science communication videos on social media, volunteering with Cornell Center for Material Research to teach youth science, and working with Cornell graduate school recruitment efforts as a graduate school ambassador. Additionally, Rob has used his research skills in the student multidisciplinary applied research teams (SMART) program, where he has led projects in Colombia, Kenya, and Rwanda. 


Science Art/Data Visualization:

Cassi Wattenburger

Cassi is a PhD candidate at Cornell University in the Soil Sciences program, where she is researching how bacterial community growth affects soil carbon cycles. Cassi has an eclectic assortment of experiences in data visualization and science art. Her work with high-dimensional datasets and obsession with aesthetics has pushed her to learn good visualization practices to effectively communicate discoveries amidst complexity. She has passed on her enthusiasm for data visualization by giving webinars and hosting career panels through Cornell’s Careers Beyond Academia program. As an undergraduate at Western Washington University, Cassi teamed up with art students to create a piece of soil art designed to evoke the idea of soils as living, breathing entities which was exhibited at the Western Gallery. Cassi also likes to involve science art in her outreach activities. During her master’s at Iowa State University, she created a “build-a-bacteria” station for elementary school outreach using arts and crafts. In 2018 she also helped design a microbiome board game with the help of a local artist for the USA Science Festival. In her spare time, Cassi enjoys reading, playing tabletop games with friends, and taking her spoiled cats on walks.

Allison Horst, PhD

Allison Horst is an Assistant Teaching Professor at the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara, where she teaches data science and statistics courses in the Master's of Environmental Science and Management program. She also teaches interdepartmental data science workshops for graduate students and alumni, leads workshops for international data science learning communities, and is a co-founder of R-Ladies Santa Barbara (a chapter of R-Ladies Global). In 2012 Allison earned her PhD from the Bren School for her work investigating the interaction and toxicity of engineered nanoparticles in environmental bacteria. Her quantitative research and teaching builds on two prior degrees from UCSB in Mechanical Engineering (MS) and Chemical Engineering (BS). Allison is also an artist, and has been creating a library of illustrated works to help learners engage with and understand topics and tools in data science, math, and statistics. Her artwork is used in courses, workshops, tutorials and talks around the world. Allison was an Artist-in-Residence at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) from 2018 - 2019, and RStudio's first Artist-in-Residence from 2019-2020. When she's not working in R, talking happily about R, or drawing something (...usually about R...), Allison can often be found hiking with her dog in oak forests or the high desert.

Paige Jarreau, PhD

Paige Jarreau is a a science storytelling and science communication scholar. She is currently the VP of Science Communication at LifeOmic, a health software company, where she helped to co-found Lifeology, a platform that combines science and art.

Daisy Chung

Daisy Chung is an award-winning science visual communicator and illustrator originally from Taiwan and New Zealand. She currently works as the Science Data Visual Designer at Surgo Venture creating data-driven visual stories to share important research findings addressing global health and social issues. Previously, she was the Creative Director at wikiHow and a freelance science visualization artist creating infographic designs to communicate complex science. She is a former graphics editor at National Geographic Magazine, where she worked with a collaborative team to engage the public through powerful visual storytelling. Daisy aims to make science more accessible and works directly with experts to communicate their research to a broader audience. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, National Geographic, Cell Press, The Journal of Neuroscience, and various science and educational platforms. When not drawing, you can find Daisy hiking, climbing rocks, and finding different uses for sourdough starters.



Elizabeth Wayne, PhD

Elizabeth Wayne is a TED Fellow and Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. Dr.Wayne received her bachelor’s degree in Physics from the University of Pennsylvania where she was a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and Moelis Access Science Scholar. Dr. Wayne continued her education at Cornell University, where her research on the role of immune cells in cancer progression and their potential as drug delivery carriers was supported by funding from the National Cancer Institute Physical Sciences in Oncology Network and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In 2016, Dr. Wayne earned her PhD in biomedical engineering where her work in immune cell-mediated drug delivery resulted in several publications and a technology patent. Afterwards, she completed a National Cancer Institute Cancer Nanotechnology Training Program Postdoctoral Fellow in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at UNC-Chapel Hill. Dr. Wayne’s current research is at the interface of macrophage biology and biomaterials where her lab develops strategies to enhance therapeutics delivery and diagnostics tools. Dr. Wayne is a strong advocate for women in science and entrepreneurship. She has been a chief organizer in the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWIP) at Cornell as well as a panelist and workshop leader at CUWiPs held at Yale and Harvard. She has received awards for her advocacy including the Constance and Alice Cook Award. In 2017, Dr. Wayne was featured in the Super Cool Scientists: A Women in Science Coloring Book. She is also the co-host of the show PhDivas, a podcast that tells the stories of women in leadership and higher education. Dr. Wayne has been featured in various publications including PBS News Hour, Nature Careers, Nature Medicine, Bust Magazine, The Atlantic, and the LA Times.

Amil Cook

Amil is a Hip-Hop Educator & technologist who enjoys building bridges and community through his work as a founding member of #HipHopEd ( He holds a bachelor's degree in African American Studies from Morehouse College. Amil also holds a Master's of Education from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He is currently employed as a public high school computer science and graphic design teacher. Amil has taught numerous academic courses from computer science AP, career readiness to Hip-Hop Studies. Amil has taught all kinds of student populations including serving as a clinical therapist in the juvenile justice system. Amil has recently started a podcast called the Extraordinary People Next Door (EPND) Podacast(

Tristan Fehr

Tristan Fehr (he/they) is a science communicator, LGBTQIA+ community advocate, and scientist. As a PhD student in neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, Tristan co-created the Effective Science Communication course to help trainees in the biomedical sciences strengthen their science communication skills and learn about careers in science communication. He has worked at a regional level to promote the advancement of early-career science communication professionals and scientific editors around New York in his tenure as the Executive Editor for the NYC Science Communication blog. Tristan also founded and served as Chair for the Mount Sinai chapter of Out in STEM (oSTEM), an international organization dedicated to building institutional and community support for members of the LGBTQIA+ community in STEM fields. In addition, he is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipient, and studies the long-term effects of early-life anesthesia exposures on the brain. He is expected to graduate from his doctoral program in April 2021.

Andy Sanchez

Andy Sanchez is a Mexican American doctoral candidate in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell University. A Sloan Research Fellow and a former Goldwater Fellow, he holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M and an MFA in Creative Writing, specializing in Fiction, from NYU. His research centers on developing a novel sensor for Lyme disease, targeting some of the systemic inefficiencies that have unfortunately produced a culture of distrust between patients and the medical community. Lyme disease encompasses a complex intersection of scientific, environmental, and social interactions that repeatedly demonstrate the need for effective and empathetic science communication, and Andy is hopeful that his work can provide some help. In addition to his research, he is an advocate for rethinking engineering ethics education, particularly in computer science and engineering. To that end, he published an Op-Ed and policy memo on bias in artificial intelligence; he mentored student groups in Cornell's Science Policy Bootcamp, helping them develop technical reports and advocacy plans on diverse topics, ranging from misleading food labels to municipal composting; and he was an organizer for the 2018 ComSciCon-NY science communication conference. He was formerly Interviews Editor for Washington Square Review and an Editorial Assistant at Callaloo. He currently serves as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Science Policy & Governance and as President of Cornell's science policy student group, Advancing Science and Policy. He is passionate about using science as one tool of many in advocating for social justice.