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Fellow & Teacher Spotlight


School Spotlight

  Current LEEFS Fellows
Kat Allen

Research
My research involves oceanography and climate change. I'm interested in the ocean because it plays an important role in the global carbon cycle, and is closely linked to Earth's climate. Right now I am developing new ways to investigate the ocean-atmosphere relationship in the past, because this will help us understand our present environment and may even give insight into future changes. Unfortunately, we can't travel back in time ourselves, so instead we study ancient shells that have accumulated as sediments on the seafloor. These shells contain a record of the environmental conditions in which they grew. To better understand and quantify the relationship between planktic (surface-water) shell chemistry and seawater, I collect live organisms and grow them under different controlled conditions. In this way, I'm a kind of marine detective: unlocking the coded relationship between sediments and seawater, trying to figure out what the ocean was like in the past.

LEEFS Motivation
This is both a learning and a teaching opportunity for me. I want to improve my ability to communicate scientific ideas and to foster critical thinking in students, because these skills are important to me. I'm working really hard to understand the Earth system, and want to be able to share information clearly with others and also to get young people excited about environmental studies. I have been fortunate enough to have some really fantastic advisors and role models during my education, and I want to pass on some of that insight and passion for learning. I'm also aware that my current studies and research are ultimately taxpayer-funded, so I think it's important to complete the circle, and give back my knowledge and energy to the community.

Collaboration Description
I will be working with Susan Vincent at the Young Women's Leadership School in East Harlem. We are planning to collaborate both in the classroom and in field studies out at the Piermont Marsh, where Susan has been conducting some exciting research projects with her students during the past few years.


Contact:
katallen@ldeo.columbia.edu

Columbia University:
Department of Earth and Environmental Science

Collaboration:
2010-2011: Susan Vincent
The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem

Links:
Personal Website

Michelle Brown

Research
I study how animal behavior is affected by changes in environmental conditions. For my dissertation, I’m studying group-living monkeys in the forests of East Africa and am looking at the factors that cause groups of monkeys to fight. For instance, do groups fight to protect access to their most important food sources, or do they fight to protect something else? Who participates in the fights (males and/or females)? To study these issues, I observe groups during naturally-occurring fights, conduct non-invasive experiments, and record information about their habitat.

LEEFS Motivation
If someone had asked me fifteen years ago whether I would become a scientist, the answer would have been no. I wasn’t confident in my math or science classes and simply didn’t realize that I could make a career out of studying animal behavior. All that changed when I had the opportunity – beginning in 8th grade – to work with a research scientist. Had I only been exposed to science in the classroom, I’ve no doubt that I would have ended up in some other profession; but being able to work with a scientist on ‘real’ research questions led me to realize that the necessary math and science skills were both attainable and interesting. I’m hoping that I can pass on that realization to kids at MS88.

Collaboration Description
Thus far my collaboration with Isabel Azcona at MS88 has centered largely on the theme of “everything relates to monkeys.” Most kids like monkeys, so I figure if I can take the principles and skills that kids are supposed to learn in their science classes and show how I use them in my day-to-day work with primates, those principles and skills will be just a little more interesting and relevant to the students.


Contact:
mb2425@columbia.edu

Columbia University:
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology

Collaboration:
2009-2011: Isabel Azcona
Middle School 88, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY

Links:
Personal Website

Meghan McGinty

Research
Although we understand that there is a correlation between land tenure, tree ownership, tree sapling suppliers, ethnobotanical knowledge and how farmers manage shade agroforestry systems, these relationships are very dynamic and merit further clarification. Research that explores the various facets of resource rights and tree seedling sources and how they shape the agroforestry systems that depend on native forest tree diversity can provide insight into the processes of native tree management and foster conservation of native tree management. If we are to rely on agricultural practices as tools for the conservation of biological diversity, we need to better understand the drivers of practices that favor the conservation of native forest tree management in agroforestry. To this end, my research examines agroforestry practices in a fragmented landscape of high conservation value, the Coastal Atlantic Forest Corridor (CCMA) in Bahia, Brazil.

LEEFS Motivation
Since I became a scientist and more specifically, a botanist, I have found it very rewarding to get other people, adults and children alike, excited about science and nature. I am passionate and enthusiastic about what I have researched and enjoy passing along my curiosity. Working with children is an exceptional opportunity to inspire the next generation to work with science and nature, increasing the professionals in the field. Additionally, after 5 years of research with farmers and tropical agroforestry, I have become convinced of the importance of communication and education. The LEEFS opportunity allows me to improve my abilities as a professional to communicate and convey the importance of the natural sciences.

Collaboration Description
Coming Soon!


Contact:
mmm2196@columbia.edu

Columbia University:
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology

Collaboration:
2010-2011: Annie Blomberg
2010-2011: Lauren Brooks
Dual Language Middle School

Links:
Personal Website

Ellane Park

Research
My research projects span over various subfields of photo-, nano-, polymer, and surface chemistry. One of the projects attempts to tackle the problem of icing on the wings of aircraft vehicles. By photografting functionalized nanoparticles to a surface, we are able to add roughness and hydrophobic chemistry to the surface. We hope to prevent icing on plane wings by creating a superhydrophobic surface.

LEEFS Motivation
LEEFS fellowship offers a unique opportunity to work with the NYC public schools engaging students in science. It is an exciting opportunity to teach chemistry and inspire high school students to think of innovative ideas that can help them connect the learned classroom concepts to the recent science and technology that they use everyday.

Collaboration Description
My collaboration with Harbor High School in Bushwick, Brooklyn involves a once-a-week commitment to co-teach chemistry laboratory experiments. Eventually, our goal is to translate the chemistry of my Ph.D. research to the classroom setting so that the students can learn the breadth and depth of chemistry and its real world applications.


Contact:
ejp2109@columbia.edu

Columbia University:
Department of Chemistry

Collaboration:
2009-2011: Sarah Gribbin
2010: Michael Moshos
Harbor High School

Links:
Research Group Website

Elizabeth Pierce

Research
I work in the fields of paleoclimate and geochemistry, and am particularly interested in further exploring the history of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. While we know that the ice sheet formed approximately 34 million years ago, with a major growth to near present-day size about 14 million years ago, we still need to learn more. Given the projected increase in temperature due to global warming, it is important to develop a better understanding of how an ice sheet that currently holds the equivalent of 52 meters of sea-level rise reacted to past changes in climate. Specifically, I am interested in characterizing sediments carried by icebergs in order to trace them back to their sources as a means of studying past changes in ice-sheet behavior; for the past two years I have been working on characterizing the source areas of ice rafted detritus around the perimeter of East Antarctica by looking at glacially derived sediments in marine sediment cores.

LEEFS Motivation
I wanted to become a LEEFS fellow for two main reasons: first, because I enjoy working with younger students and introducing them to the Earth Sciences and second, so that I could learn from both the students and the teacher that I am paired with how to be a better educator and public speaker when it comes to my field and my research. I want to be involved in education and outreach as I continue in my career, and have enjoyed my experiences with both thus far. The LEEFS program offers a more sustained experience in that, as a fellow, I will be interacting with the students once a week. I am very excited to be a fellow in this program, and am looking forward to the coming year!

Collaboration Description
Coming Soon!


Contact:
elp2116@columbia.edu

Columbia University:
Department of Earth and Environmental Science

Collaboration:
2010-2011: Michael Seymour
Middle School 88, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY

Links:
Personal Website

John Templeton

Research
My research is related to what geologists generally refer to as "crustal deformation," which means observing and describing the patterns and processes by which the thin, brittle layer of hard rock that we call the Earth's crust, breaks up and deforms during mountain building events. Plate tectonics gives geologists a framework to interpret the various landscapes around the world, from volcanic mountain ranges such as the Andes, to ancient continental collision mountain ranges such as the Appalachians. My study focuses on the mountains of the desert southwestern U.S., referred to generally as the Basin and Range, and the result of crustal deformation due to the extension of the brittle crust. The broad questions I am asking are: how does the brittle crust break (in faults) when it is pulled apart in extension? How much extension can the brittle crust accomodate in normal faulting? What happens to extensional faults at great depth in the crust, where the hard, brittle rock becomes hot and ductile? I am mapping rocks in the Tule Springs Hills of Nevada with the goal of answering some of these questions and finding basic constraints on other questions.

LEEFS Motivation
My interest in LEEFS comes from a lot of public education in my own background, and a firm belief that good public education is an essential piece of a society that makes the kind of lofty claims that ours does; equal rights for all, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the right to self-determination, the ideal of each person being able to make a life of their own choosing. While most of these lofty ideals are realities for only the wealthy members of our society, public education is a common ground for all of us and something that every community in America can claim as their own. I hope that through LEEFS I will be able to integrate myself into a public school community and build relationships with teachers, students, and administrators, which will strengthen the educational experience in that community and also broaden my own perspective on the world.

Collaboration Description
I will work with Ms. Adams to enrich the science curriculum in her classes, especially in areas of my own expertise (mainly geology: rocks), and help run successful laboratory experiences for the entire class by providing extra one-on-one attention where needed.


Contact:
johnt@ldeo.columbia.edu

Columbia University:
Department of Earth and Environmental Science

Collaboration:
2010-2011: Samantha Adams
The Heritage School

Christine Vanos

Research
I work in an organic methods development lab. Currently, we are investigating the utility of aromatic ions as catalysts for a number of chemical transformations. I specifically am investigating cyclopropenium mediated Beckmann Rearrangements, and the catalytic conversion of of aromatic ion-activated alcohols to alkyl chlorides. In a larger sense, we develop new methods for existing chemical reactions, with the aims of reducing the number of steps or byproducts, and/or increasing overall efficiency and yields for reactions.

LEEFS Motivation
Chemistry has always been my favorite subject, mainly because I had a great chemistry teacher in high school. I hope to show students that science is fun and interesting, and they can make a career out of it. And as much as I love my research, I look forward to stepping away from my fume hood one day a week to see and share science in a more general and accessible context.

Collaboration Description
Coming Soon!


Contact:
cmv2114@columbia.edu

Columbia University:
Department of Chemistry

Collaboration:
2010-2011: Cristi Lagos
Middle School 88, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY