Current Recipients of the Graduate Student Fellowship
The Philomathia Graduate Fellowship in the Environmental Sciences provides fellowships for graduate students studying issues related to the environment at UC Berkeley. Students are nominated to receive the award on the basis of their high level of academic distinction and exceptional promise.
2022 - 2023 Recipients
Allison E. Batka
Cellulose, the most abundant biopolymer on Earth, is an attractive alternative to fossil fuels for energy and the production of commodity chemicals. However, the high stability of cellulose poses a great challenge in its utilization as a renewable resource. In nature, the bonds between sugars are broken by enzymes such as polysaccharide monooxygenases (PMOs). To understand how to better degrade cellulose, Allie is investigating the mechanism of PMOs. Much is still unknown about the molecular mechanism of PMOs. Allie is specifically interested in identifying and understanding the rate-limiting step, timing of proton transfers, and intermediate structures in the PMO mechanism. In answering these fundamental biochemical questions, the results of this work will inform the design of new catalysts and materials for the biofuel industry.
Liverworts are a group of haploid plants that challenge our idea of what a plant is. They lack flowers, wood, roots, and sometimes even leaves! Yet, they are plants. In fact, palaeobotanical research suggests that some extant liverworts are morphologically similar to the first plants that ventured to land, over 400 mya. Despite their superficial fragility and “simplicity”, liverworts are diverse and widespread: these paradoxical plants occur from deserts to tropical rainforests; they can live in bare rock, on the trunk of trees, or even on top of an angiosperm leaf; and many individual liverwort species have very large geographic ranges. And so, many questions arise: Have liverworts changed much in 400 million years, and if not, why not, how not? How do single species maintain such big distributions? (or do they..?) Ixchel studies liverworts at multiple spatial and temporal scales. To know more about her research visit https://ixchelgzlzr.github.io
Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are long, flowing regions of moisture in the atmosphere – sometimes referred to as rivers in the sky. Globally, ARs are responsible for transporting the vast majority of water vapor towards the poles but regionally can have significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts. In the western U.S., ARs have accounted for roughly $1.1 billion in estimated flood damages per year. With growing populations, increased development, and climate change, risks of AR-driven flood damages are expected to increase. Despite posing enormous risks and damages, ARs are also essential for ending droughts and supplying water resources. Sol’s research examines various aspects of these features including the genesis of ARs, representation of ARs in climate models, detection of ARs in 3D and by using Deep Learning, and lastly, the ability of ARs to transport heat and energy.
The morphological and physiological adaptations that have allowed marine mammals to overcome the challenges associated with the recolonization of the aquatic environment confer unique life history traits that are uncommon in terrestrial mammals and have converged independently in distinct lineages. While these life history strategies make marine mammals interesting models to study adaptations to stress, perturbations characteristic of modern environments may increase marine mammals’ susceptibility to direct and indirect anthropogenic stressors. Emily is a PhD candidate in the Vázquez-Medina lab at UC Berkeley. She is broadly interested in studying how increased anthropogenic stressors in the world’s oceans affect marine mammals. Her projects seek to contribute to our understanding of the effects of stress exposure at different levels of biological organization in marine mammals from developing an ex vivo cell model to understand how stress hormones affect whale physiology to studying how changes in habitat temperature and quality alter thermoregulatory physiology and behavior in elephant seals. The results of these studies will provide direct evidence on the potential consequences of increased stress exposure on marine mammal biology and health.
Vero (veiru:) is a 2nd year PhD candidate in Razafindratsima lab. She is investigating the contributions of tropical nocturnal omnivores in the maintenance of plant diversity and the impacts of human activities on the seed dispersal processes in the tropics. As a Malagasy scientist, Vero has focused her research on the mouse lemurs in Madagascar, where she is one of the youngest researchers that have investigated the interactions of small-bodied and nocturnal primates with plants. Her PhD project involves a lot of fieldwork data such that she is expected to spend most of her summers in the rainforests of Madagascar, where she will capture-release mouse lemurs and other arboreal small mammals, track mouse lemurs at night using telemetry, and conduct several germination experiments with the seeds retrieved in the mouse lemur dungs.
Nina Sokolov is a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley in Dr. Mike Boots' lab studying disease ecology in managed and native bees of California. She is interested in understanding how crop pollination events such as the almond bloom impact viral dynamics in pollinator systems. Specifically, she works on ranches and in gardens throughout Marin County studying honeybee and bumblebee viruses through time to see how management styles, ranging from migratory pollinator operations to feral colonies in the wild with no interventions, impacts bee health. Additionally, she works in the Sierra studying virus dynamics in an alpine wildflower pollinator system to understand the directionality of virus spillover between managed honeybees and native bees, and how diversity and floral preferences play a role in disease transmission.
Joshua Zimmt is a PhD candidate in Integrative Biology, working at the University of California Museum of Paleontology. He is studying the link between climate change and mass extinction in the fossil record, combining paleobiological, geological, and geochemical data to produce new insights into the history of life. His dissertation research focuses on the exceptional fossil and rock records on Anticosti Island (Québec, Canada) to understand how climate change may have caused the Late Ordovician mass extinction, one of the largest known extinction events. By producing a better understanding of this critical interval in the history of life, Joshua’s research will serve as a case study of global change that can be used to better understand our rapidly changing modern world.
Joshua holds a B.Sc. in geology from the College of William & Mary. In addition to his research, he is the student lead on the ACCESS program, an initiative by the University of California Museum of Paleontology to bring engaging paleobiology and geology lessons to community college classrooms around the country.