Helen Fellows 2019-2020 main content.

Helen Fellows 2019-2020

Lucrecia Aguilar

Helen Fellow 2019-2020 Lucrecia Aguilar

Lucrecia’s fields of interest include mammalogy, animal behavior, wildlife conservation and anthropology. She is skilled in GiS, handling large datasets, and statistical modeling of variable linkages in R. Her past research experiences have included the study of mountain lions, jaguars, orangutans and mice. Lucrecia is generally interested in conducting anthropological and ecological research to explore the functioning of large mammals in the Anthropocene.

There are many hip morphologies found in acrobatic primates that are assumed to enhance hip mobility and locomotor performance in the arboreal environment. Generally, it is believed that acrobatic primates require greater ranges of motion (and morphologies promoting greater range of motion) in order to navigate the treetop environment. However, it is unknown how combinations of morphologies work together to directly and indirectly determine hip joint mobility. Lucrecia is working with Dr. Ashley Hammond in the Division of Anthropology to produce visualizations to predict hindlimb morphologies for a range of primates. In addition, she will mathematically test a model of the linkage between primate bony hip morphology, joint mobility, and performance. Her research will develop the most streamlined model of morphologies that are associated with overall locomotor capabilities.

Meera Desai

Helen Fellow 2019-2020 Meera Desai

Originally from Sonoma County, California, Meera Desai graduated with a B.A. in Physics and a minor in Computer Science from Barnard College in 2019. While at Barnard, Meera conducted research in two astrophysics labs at Columbia, where she was first exposed to computational analysis methods, including machine learning. During her final summer before graduation, Meera interned at Ursa Space Systems in Ithaca, New York. At Ursa, Meera worked with Poppy Immel and Dr. Daniela Moody to develop deep learning algorithms for use on remote sensing data. Meera’s general research interests include applied machine learning, computer vision, and fairness in AI. Outside of research, Meera enjoys making ceramics and exploring New York City’s parks.

Meera currently works with Dr. David Lindo Atichati in the Department of Earth and Physical Sciences investigating the role of ocean eddies (coherent rotating bodies of water) in the process of carbon uptake by the ocean. The ocean absorbs about one quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities each year, potentially slowing the rate of global warming but also leading to the increased acidification of the ocean. It has been suggested observationally that ocean eddies can contain 20% more anthropogenic carbon than the rest of the ocean. Using a combination of observed and modeled data, this research seeks to comprehensively understand the contribution of ocean eddies in carbon uptake. Using a type of machine learning algorithm called a convolutional neural network, Meera seeks to simulate 23 years of oceanographic data that will aid in this investigation.

Nhen Hunter

Helen Fellow 2019-2020 Nhen Hunter

Nhen Hunter, of Saratoga Springs, New York, first became passionate about genetics in her 8thgrade science class while learning about the predictive capabilities of Punnett squares. She quickly gravitated towards molecular biology, having an endless fascination about cells, their roles and the way they work together to allow for biological processes to function. Her passion then grew once immersed in the study of genetics at the University of New Hampshire. She graduated with a B.S. degree in Genetics and a concentration in Genomics, after taking a variety of bioinformatics courses and completing research in the field. Her collegiate research career began in genetic engineering, working with Hydra Magnipapillata’s opsin genes and CRISPR, to better understand the expression of sensory genes and their evolution. In her last year and a half at university, her research interest moved to data analysis work, using novel bioinformatic pipelines to study the structure of the metazoan phylogenetic tree by assembling and analyzing transcriptomes. When not conducting research, Nhen enjoys reading, crocheting, yoga and tending to her plants. She is also a foodie and loves adventuring around the city, finding new places that are aesthetically pleasing and have a great menu.

At the museum, Nhen works with Dr. Cheryl Hayashi and Dr. Richard Baker of the Sackler Institute of Comparative Genomics, analyzing the structure of spider silk genes. Spider silk genes and the information that comes with them has the potential to make a massive impact on evolutionary biology, genetics and biotech fields. Understanding the structure and variety of these genes and proteins is the first step. She is working to develop a bioinformatic pipeline, equipped to handle the repetitive nature of these genes. This pipeline will work to assemble, analyze and accurately display/group the gene and protein data for our particular research, as well as data in existence for other biological systems, whose repeats make analyses difficult.

Ankitha Kannad

Helen Fellow 2019-2020 Ankitha Kannad

The science museums in Ankitha’s hometowns, Bengaluru, India and later Singapore, fostered her life-long love for science. Starting out as a physics major in Bryn Mawr College, she studied the complex world of atoms and their quantum mechanical interactions under Dr. Michael Noel. A class in geology introduced her to the field of earth science and helped her see the mountains and oceans of her hometowns in a completely new light. Interested in exploring the intersections between physics and ocean science, Ankitha did a summer research internship at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute with Dr. Gordon Zhang, examining the ocean dynamics of coastal polynyas, large openings in Antarctic ice that provide a safe haven for many organisms during the winter. Here, she was also introduced to the ways in which computer science can be used to study and model the ocean. Ankitha is excited to continue exploring her interests in oceanography, computer science and science education through the Helen Fellowship and hopes to empower her interns to find their own path through science. When she’s not doing research or teaching, Ankitha can be found exploring New York’s museums, reading or looking for food from home, particularly a good dosa or laksa. 

Ankitha is working with Dr. Nathalie Goodkin in the Department of Earth and Physical Sciences to study the oceanography and climate of the Indonesian and South China Seas using coral cores. Oceans play an important role in regulating the Earth’s climate by transferring heat from the equator to the poles. Heat transfer in the South-East Asian seas is influenced by an interplay of many different climate drivers such as the East Asian monsoons and El Niño. Understanding this system, particularly how it is affected by anthropogenic warming, requires going back in time to understand what it was like before the influence of humans. Corals make great time machines. As they grow, they incorporate elements from the ocean water into their skeletons. The relative composition of these elements can be used to determine the ocean conditions that corals were growing in and consequently the climate they might have experienced. Ankitha will be synthesizing coral data collected by Dr. Goodkin and her students to build a regional model of climate and ocean dynamics in south-east Asia to examine how it has changed in the past 400 years.

Danielle Rowland

Danielle Rowland
Helen Fellow Danielle Rowland

Danielle is an enrolled member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Nation and grew up on her tribe’s reservation located in Western New York State. She moved to New York City for college and earned an A.A. from New York University. Danielle then worked for several years in various accounting and administrative positions while supporting a growing family. After some time, she matriculated at Columbia University and earned her B.A. in Astrophysics. Her research experience began by investigating proposed variations to the stellar initial mass function while working at the University of Texas at Austin. Danielle also did an extended internship at Space Telescope Science Institute reducing data to measure the rotation and mass of several dwarf galaxies. Most recently, she worked at Leiden Observatory in The Netherlands modeling the mass and light distribution of a galaxy cluster to enable a search for small, low-mass galaxies behind the cluster.  

Danielle is working with Dr. Ruth Angus in the Department of Astrophysics to measure rotation rates for a large sample of low-mass stars. Her data will come from nearly yearlong observations of stars located in the Southern Continuous Viewing Zone (CVZ) of the TESS space telescope. TESS is an all-sky survey satellite taking time-series data for relatively nearby stars within our home galaxy, The Milky Way. Once these CVZ stars are accurately measured they will serve as a training set for machine learning methods to aid in the measurement of stellar rotation for stars also observed by TESS but on shorter timescales. With a full catalog of rotation period measurements for TESS observed stars she can take advantage of a connection between rotation rates and ages for low-mass stars. This connection will allow her to begin stellar population studies and evaluate current stellar evolutionary models.