Bridge to Ph.D. Program in the Natural Sciences Participants

Through their employment as Research Assistants (RAs), Bridge Program participants are actively engaged in hands-on investigative work in laboratories in the natural sciences at Columbia. Below is some information about our current participants and alumni and the exciting projects on which they are currently working or worked.

Current Participant Biographies

Cohort 4 (2011-2013)

Juliana Agudelo (Chemistry), Advisor: Nick Turro

Juliana, a native of Medellin, Colombia, moved to the United States in 2006. In 2011, she earned a B.S. in biotechnology from Kean University in New Jersey. As a 2009 Ronald E. McNair scholar, Juliana worked with Eric Boehm on sequencing DNA to resolve phylogenic relationships between species in the genus of the mytilinidion fungus. In 2010, she studied the intestinal calcium transport mediated by Vitamin D with Angela Porta. During her time as a research assistant (RA) in the Porta laboratory, she was funded by a National Institute of Health (NIH) Research Supplements for Underrepresented Minorities grant. As a Bridge to the Ph.D. scholar, Juliana works in Nicholas Turro’s photochemistry laboratory, where she investigates the quenching of fluorescence in fluorophores by using free radicals in different environments. Such fluorophores could be used as biosensors and for imaging. Juliana plans to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology, specifically in DNA isolation and sequencing.

Erick Andrade (Physics), Advisor: Abhay Pasupathy

Born in El Salvador and raised in Maryland, Erick earned his B.S. in physics in 2005 from the University of Maryland, College Park. His research experiences include work in experimental nuclear physics at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia, and in experimental atomic, molecular, and optical physics with Wendell Hill at the University of Maryland. During his time in Maryland, his focus was on how to cancel stray magnetic fields in a magneto-optical trap that cools rubidium atoms to microkelvin temperatures for optical manipulation. Erick is currently working with Abhay Pasupathy in his Condensed Matter Physics Group on scanning tunnel microscopy of recently discovered high-temperature, iron-based superconductors. Most recently, he has been involved in the construction of an ultra low-loss scanning tunneling microscope and in probing the properties of charged density waves of sulfur doped niobium diselenide around its transition temperature. Erick plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics.

Carlos Garcia (Biological Sciences), Advisor: John Hunt

Born and raised in New Jersey, Carlos attended Kean University, where he obtained a B.S. in biotechnology with a minor in organic chemistry in 2011. While at Kean, he participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) and McNair programs. It was his REU experience in the Walter Chazin laboratory that sparked his interest in biomedicine. At Columbia, Carlos works in John Hunt’s laboratory studying the structural and thermodynamic mechanisms by which proteins perform mechanical activities on a molecular scale. More specifically, he is characterizing the protein cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), a mutation of which causes cystic fibrosis. A better understanding of CFTR could ultimately lead to the development of new drugs to treat the disease. Carlos plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedicine.

Evan Hamilton (Earth and Environmental Sciences), Advisor: Peter deMenocal

Evan is a RA at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, where he works with Peter deMenocal to reconstruct a record of the Earth's climate variability. His research involves analyzing deuterium hydrogen isotopes locked away in fossilized leaf wax samples that have been extracted from deep sediment cores taken off the coasts of Africa and Peru. This research tracks large-scale changes in climate over the past 10,000 years to help answer questions about the formation of human civilization and to identify global trends that will affect future societal development. Originally from Los Angeles, California, Evan moved to New York in 2007 to study anthropology and sustainable development at Columbia University.  He plans to continue his education in climate change mitigation, focusing on the links between human activity and the environment, by pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental science.

Steven Mohammed (Astronomy), Advisor: David Schiminovich

Originally from New York City, Steven is working with David Schiminovich in the Department of Astronomy. Steven is assembling a catalog from various surveys of nearby massive galaxies to examine their gas content and compare them to galaxies in the Galaxy Arecibo Sky Survey (GASS). Specifically, he is looking at how neutral hydrogen evolves between young, blue, gas-rich star forming galaxies and old, red, gas-deficient galaxies that have a much lower star-formation rate. While the distribution of neutral hydrogen is known in lower-mass galaxies, Steven hopes to extend that the relationship to more massive galaxies. As an undergraduate at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, Steven worked with Jeff Bary studying angular momentum transport in TW Hya, a T Tauri star, via its accretion and outflow processes. In the summer of 2009, he researched the formation of brown dwarfs using Hubble Space Telescope images with Kim McLeod at Wellesley College, and helped discover a planetesimal orbiting a brown dwarf. Steven earned a B.A. in astronomy-physics in 2011 and ultimately plans to pursue a Ph.D. in astronomy.

Cohort 3 (2010-2012) 

Kirsten Frazer (Psychology)
Kirsten is from Pelham, New York, and received her B.A. in psychology from Connecticut College in May 2010. As an undergraduate, she did research under the mentorship of Emery Brown at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she examined the actions of general anesthetic drugs and how they induce loss of consciousness. It was this experience that ignited Kirsten's interest in pharmacology. At Columbia, Kirsten has worked with Kevin Ochsner studying the regulation of craving in methamphetamine users, and is currently investigating how ketamine affects cocaine users with Carl Hart. In particular, Kirsten is looking at whether ketamine reduces cue reactivity (the intensity of response to drug cues), and whether it enhances motivation to change patterns of drug use. This may help determine whether ketamine can be used in treatments for cocaine dependence. Kirsten plans to pursue a Ph.D. in neuropsychology.

Raven Harris (Neuroscience)

Raven is from New Castle, Delaware, and graduated from Haverford College, where she earned a B.S. in Biology in 2010. While at Haverford, she received several summer research fellowships from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and completed a senior thesis with Andrea Morris on axon guidance in the developing visual system. In the summer of 2009, as part of Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS) Summer Research Program, Raven furthered her interest in axon guidance working with Carol Mason. In 2010, Raven returned to the Mason laboratory as an RA in the Bridge Program. The Mason laboratory investigates molecules important for the formation of neuronal connections in the developing visual system. Raven's current project identifies genes important for retinal axons to recognize targets in the brain. In the summer of 2012, she will enter the M.D./Ph.D. program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Claribel Nuñez (Chemistry)
Claribel is a New York native and earned a B.S. in chemistry from Brooklyn College in 2010. There she was a Minority Access to Research and Career (MARC) scholar, and worked with Maria Contel on the synthesis of iminophsophines with gold to improve cancer therapy. In the summer of 2009, Claribel conducted research with Nina Berova at Columbia as part of the GSAS Summer Research Program. She worked on three zinc "tweezers" to determine their usefulness for finding the absolute configuration of chiral molecules, which will help in developing efficient pharmaceuticals. Currently, Claribel is working as a research assistant in Ann McDermott's laboratory, studying the interaction of cytochrome P450, an enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of organic substances in the body, with N-Palmitoylglycine, a fatty acid. Claribel plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

John Pamplin II (Psychology)
John is a research assistant in Rae Silver's neuroscience laboratory, where he studies circadian rhythms. His current work focuses on the role of the Suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the regulation of sex hormones. Specifically, he is looking for sex differences in the circadian regulation of the endocrine pathway responsible for sex hormone release in hamsters. John is originally from Yellow Springs, Ohio. He attended Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Georgia, where he received his B.S. in biology in 2010. As a member of the John H. Hopps Jr. Research Scholars Program, which is funded by the Department of Defense, John worked with Daniel Hummer at Morehouse, investigating the role of gama aminobutyric acid (GABA) in light-induced phase shifts in hamsters. Additionally, John spent the summer of 2009 in the laboratory of Ted Garland Jr. at the University of California, Riverside, studying sexual dimorphism in the pelves of a group of mice selectively bred for voluntary wheel running. John is generally interested in neural-communication of the SCN. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience.

Corey Perez (Chemistry)
Corey was born and raised in Miami, Florida. After receiving his B.A. in biochemistry from Columbia in May 2010, Corey began working as a joint research assistant under the supervision of Virginia Cornish and Ruben Gonzalez. He is currently involved in a research project investigating the detailed functioning of the ribosome, the critical piece of cellular machinery responsible for the synthesis of proteins. His research employs single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (smFRET) to explore the complex dynamics involved in protein formation. With a wider interest in bioinorganic chemistry and cellular engineering, Corey ultimately plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry.

For any questions about the Bridge Program, please email Summer Ash or Marcel Agüeros. Prof. Agüeros can also be reached at (212) 854-4608.

The Bridge Program is supported by the National Science Foundation through grant AST-1015491. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Bridge Program Participants, 2009-2010. Back row, left to right: Khatera Rahmani, Marlena Watson, Ximena Fernández, Charlotte Logan, Tashina Graves, Shaness Grenald, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Egbe Ode, Angelica Patterson, and Nitza Santiago. Front row, left to right: Richard Lopez, Chuk Onyemekwu, and Nicholas Hunt-Walker.