Current Scholar Biographies

Cohort 11 (2018-2020)

Advisor: Cory Dean

Derick González-Acevedo was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He obtained a B.S. in physics with a minor in mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez in June 2018. After taking Introductory Quantum Mechanics, he quickly developed a passion for physics. This course furthered his interests in the fields of atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) physics and condensed matter physics. During the summer of 2016, Derick participated in the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of South Florida (USF) under the mentorship of Sarath Witanachchi. His project focused on using Glancing Angle Pulse Laser Deposition to grow Lead Zirconium Titanium Oxide (PZT) nanocolumns on Lanthanum Strontium Manganite Oxide (LSMO) islands and to study their morphological and structural properties. These nanocolumns offer a multitude of applications in electronics such as improving the efficiency of capacitors and sensors. In the summer of 2017, he participated in the REU program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) under the supervision of Gregory MacDougall. At UIUC, he characterized large, single crystals of lanthanum-based cuprates superconductors, which have the potential to improve how energy is produced and transmitted. Currently, he is working in Cory Dean’s laboratory in the Department of Physics where he is investigating the role of angular orientation and relative lattice constant on the friction of the interface between complimentary 2D materials.  Findings from this research would contribute to a better understanding of friction at the atomic scale, which can lead to the fabrication of novel devices. After completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Derick plans to pursue a Ph.D. in condensed matter physics.

Advisors: Geraldine Downey and Carl Hart

Jay Holder is a native New Yorker who was born and raised in the Harlem community. His unwavering interest in people, groups, and institutions impelled him to complete a B.S. in behavioral science at Mercy College. Jay’s main academic pursuits are to investigate, inform, and influence the culture and structure of cities through sound research. Currently, Jay is a program developer and research assistant for Columbia University’s Center for Justice, where he works with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to create healthy environments for communal stakeholders across a spectrum that includes families, educational and recreational institutions, and incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. With Geraldine Downey in the Department of Psychology, Jay’s research focuses on healthy human development. Also, Jay is working under the mentorship of Carl Hart in the Department of Psychology, where his work investigates how psychoactive substances affect human behavior. Based on these interests, Jay plans to pursue a Ph.D. in social psychology with a long-term goal of participating in making social policies based on updated data.

Advisor: Lars Dietrich

Julie Kiss was born and raised in New York City. She attended the Swedish Institute of Health Sciences where she received an A.S. in occupational therapy and became a licensed massage therapist. She simultaneously attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York (CUNY), graduating with a B.S. in cellular and molecular biology and a minor in health sciences. As an undergraduate, she participated in the Program for Research Initiatives in Science and Mathematics (PRISM) where she worked in Angelique Corthal’s laboratory on two individual projects. The first involved mapping the evolutionary divergence of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs), which are potential targets for drug therapy in patients with multiple sclerosis. The second tested the ability of diatoms (a group of micro-algae) to enter the pores of long bones and permeate the bone marrow of the wild boar (Sus scrofa). The results of this study have broad implications for the interpretation of the diatom test, which is used by forensic scientists to characterize cases of drowning. Currently, Julie is working in Lars Dietrich’s laboratory in the Department of Biological Sciences, where she studies the effect of oxygen availability on cellular arrangement in bacterial communities called biofilms. Specifically, she is elucidating the role of the sensor/regulator protein DipA in determining the formation of vertical, clonal lineages in biofilms of the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Julie is developing a protocol for the application of scanning electron microscopy to biofilms and will apply this method in her characterization of mutants representing selected DipA residues and domains. A detailed understanding of the pathways that control biofilm organization could inform approaches to treating bacterial infections. Julie aspires to receive a Ph.D. in microbiology and to conduct research investigating the human microbiota’s role in the onset, progression, or remission of autoimmune diseases and central nervous system disorders.


Advisor: Kathryn Johnston

Shifra Mandel grew up in Monroe, New York. After obtaining a GED, she enrolled at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), intending to major in mechanical engineering. After taking an introductory physics course, she was inspired to study physics and transferred to Columbia University. As an undergraduate, she conducted research with Columbia University’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) group, under the leadership of Chuck Hailey and Kaya Mori. With the NuSTAR group, her research focused on the analysis of observational data from a number of exotic X-ray sources, including rare black holes in the Galactic Center. In the summer of 2018, Shifra received a B.A. in physics from Columbia University. Currently, she is working with Kathryn Johnston in the Department of Astronomy to determine the formation of tidal debris that occurs when satellite dwarf galaxies merge with their much larger host galaxies. Upon completing the Bridge Program, Shifra aspires to receive a Ph.D. in astronomy from Columbia University.

Advisor: Sidney Hemming

Originally from Binga, Zimbabwe, Chiza Mwinde moved to the United States to attend Smith College where she graduated with a B.A. in geosciences in 2018. At Smith College, her curiosity about earth history led her to join Sara Pruss’ laboratory. There, she conducted a year-long research project that investigated the depositional conditions of the Rainstorm Member of the Johnnie Formation in Death Valley (Eastern California). During the summer of her junior year, she participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research in Geoscience and Engineering (SURGE) Program at Stanford University, where she worked in Erik Sperling’s historical geobiology laboratory. In the SURGE Program, she studied siltstones from the Lower Triassic Montney Formation (Western Canada), which were deposited following the Permian mass extinction that occurred about 250 million years ago. She also investigated marine anoxia in the 5-10 million years following this mass extinction. Geochemical data from the Montney Formation demonstrated that anoxic marine conditions following the Permian mass extinction may have contributed to delays in biotic recovery. Fully understanding the causes of this delayed biotic recovery is critical for determining the extent to which persistent adverse conditions can affect life on earth. Currently, Chiza is working under the mentorship of Sidney Hemming at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Her research focuses on understanding past climate changes by using various geochemical analyses of ocean and river sediments from southern Africa. Chiza plans to pursue a Ph.D. in sedimentary geochemistry with a focus on paleoclimatology.

Advisors: Georgia Karagiorgi and Michael Shaevitz

Iris Ponce was born and raised in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In 2018, Iris graduated from Oglethorpe University with a B.S. in computational physics. At Oglethorpe University, Iris was an active participant in several outreach activities and served as the president of the Society of Physics Students and of Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity. With Mariel Meier, Iris’ undergraduate research focused on understanding the interactions between solar wind and Jupiter’s magnetosphere. Currently, Iris is working with The Columbia Neutrino Group at Nevis Laboratories and in the Department of Physics under the mentorship of Georgia Karagiorgi and Michael Shaevitz. Her research focuses on validating supernova data collection triggering for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). After completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Iris plans to continue her graduate studies in particle physics.

Advisor: Marcel Agüeros

Rayna Rampalli was born and raised in Sacramento, California. Inspired by astronomy research that she conducted in high school, Rayna chose to attend Wellesley College, home to a long line of women astrophysicists. At Wellesley, she conducted research in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics. At the Wellesley College Observatory, she observed Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) exoplanets transits and Koronis asteroids. She helped build a muon detector, which collected and recorded the number of muon particles as a means of determining the particles’ lifetimes. Also, Rayna has participated in a number of astronomy research projects including detecting and tabulating extragalactic point sources of H alpha and calculating occurrence rates of the hot Jupiter class of exoplanets. For her senior thesis, she worked with Dave Lathan and Andrew Vanderburg at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. To address the planet signal determination issues from NASA’s recently launched Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission’s camera, she investigated methods of exoplanet candidate validation in star-crowded fields of NASA’s K2 mission as a useful proxy. Currently, Rayna works with Marcel Agüeros in the Department of Astronomy to determine rotation periods of stellar members of the Beehive cluster using K2 data. These rotation rates will be combined with pre-existing ground-based data on these cluster members as a means of tracing and characterizing stellar spot and magnetic evolution. After completing the Bridge to the Ph.D. Program, Rayna plans to pursue a Ph.D. in astronomy.