Meet our new faculty: Natural sciences and mathematics

Meet our new faculty: Natural sciences and mathematics

This fall, 15 new researchers and instructors join 6 natural science departments and programs in Arts & Sciences. 6 of these faculty members — Kade Head-Marsden, Robert Lunde, Roger Michaelides, Andrina Nicola, Robert Wexler, and Yajie Yuan — were hired as part of the Digital Transformation Initiative in Arts & Sciences. New faculty in the humanities and social sciences were showcased in previous weeks.

Welcome to all our incoming faculty!

Biology

Elizabeth Mallott joins the Department of Biology as an assistant professor. Her research examines how the environment shapes host-associated microbial communities both within and across species. She is particularly interested in how the response of the gut microbiome to external factors might contribute to host health and fitness. Mallott earned her doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and held postdoctoral research positions at Northwestern University, Dartmouth College, and Vanderbilt University before joining the Arts & Sciences faculty at WashU.

 

B. Duygu Özpolat has accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. She uses marine and aquatic segmented worms to understand the cellular origins and mechanisms of reproductive cell regeneration, with potential applications in stem cell and infertility therapies. She earned her doctorate from Tulane University and was previously a Hibbitt Fellow at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory.

 

Jennifer Wang joins the Department of Biology as an assistant professor. Her lab studies fundamental cell biological questions about how organelles are formed and regulated, focusing on mammalian centrosomes and cilia. The lab uses CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, high-resolution microscopy, and biochemical techniques to discover how nanometer-scale proteins form micron-scale cellular machines. Wang earned her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University and was previously a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University.

 

Xuehua Zhong has accepted a position as a professor in the Department of Biology. Her research focuses on epigenetic regulation of plant traits and environmental adaptation as well as how plants reprogram epigenetic landscapes in response to environmental changes to meet growth and survival needs. Prior to joining the WashU faculty, Zhong was an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a dual appointment at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

 

Chemistry

Kade Head-Marsden has accepted a position in the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor. Her research focuses on electronic structure properties and open quantum system dynamics relevant in emerging quantum materials and technologies, which she hopes to use to make predictions for correlated molecular systems undergoing complex environmental interactions with applications in chemistry, physics, and materials science. She earned her doctorate from the University of Chicago and was previously a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University.

 

Jennifer Heemstra joins the Department of Chemistry as the Charles Allen Thomas Professor of Chemistry and chair of the department. Her research focuses on harnessing the molecular recognition and self-assembly properties of nucleic acids to generate functional architectures for biosensing and bioimaging. She received the American Chemical Society’s Rising Star Award in 2021 and comes to WashU after five years as a professor at Emory University.

 

John Heemstra has accepted a position as a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry. He has taught numerous chemistry courses and earned a reputation as an exceptional, innovative, and dedicated educator who creates enriching classroom experiences. In his previous position, Heemstra played a leading role in developing foundational coursework for Emory's undergraduate chemistry curriculum. He was also an award-winning instructor at the University of Utah and a research scientist in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries before coming to WashU.

 

Robert Wexler joins the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor. His research focuses on theoretical innovation for renewable energy and environmental applications, with an emphasis on the development of computational methods for the more realistic modeling of interfacial phenomena in heterogeneous electrocatalysis, solar energy conversion, and ferroelectric environmental energy harvesting. He earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and was previously a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University.

 

Earth and Planetary Sciences

Roger Michaelides joins the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences as an assistant professor. He uses a variety of remote sensing instruments, geospatial techniques, and time series methods to study dynamic surface processes from Arctic tundra wildfires to high-desert debris flows and is interested in developing novel approaches to studying the cryosphere, hydrosphere, land surface, and critical zone. He earned his doctorate from Stanford University and was previously a postdoctoral researcher with the Colorado Geological Survey and Colorado School of Mines.

 

Environmental Studies

Froggi VanRiper joins the Environmental Studies Program as a lecturer, where she will be teaching sustainability-themed courses and serving as co-director of WashU’s Sustainability Exchange program. She is driven by interest in how social, environmental, and technical systems interact to affect the sustainability of public infrastructure and the wellbeing of vulnerable populations. She is an active member of the movement to reshape the nature of academic collaboration between researchers from wealthy and exploited environments to achieve equitable distribution of benefits.

 

Mathematics and Statistics

Wanlin Li joins the Department of Mathematics and Statistics as an assistant professor. Her research focuses on number theory and arithmetic geometry, including ranks of elliptic curves over function fields, curves over finite fields, Jacobian varieties, and Galois representations. She earned her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was previously a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre de Recherches Mathématiques.

 

Robert Lunde has accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. He is broadly interested in prediction and inference for data with complex dependence structures, such as networks and time series, with the major aim of understanding properties of resampling methods. He earned his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University and was a research fellow at the University of Michigan and postdoctoral scholar at the University of Texas at Austin prior to joining the WashU faculty.

 

Physics

Alex Chen joins the Department of Physics as a research assistant professor. He uses GPU-based massive supercomputer simulations to study the complex plasma physics and radiative processes near astrophysical compact objects, namely neutron stars and black holes. He earned his doctorate from Columbia University and was previously a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University and at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

 

Andrina Nicola has accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics. Her research combines data from several cosmological probes to test and constrain the cosmological model and physics of galaxy formation. She is particularly interested in developing novel data analysis methods using machine learning and artificial intelligence. Nicola earned her doctorate from ETH Zurich and was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University prior to joining the Arts & Sciences faculty at WashU.

 

Yajie Yuan joins the Department of Physics as an assistant professor. She works on building first-principles models for the high energy processes powered by black holes and neutron stars. She is currently focused on multi-messenger emission from active galactic nuclei and mechanisms for fast radio bursts. Before joining the Arts & Sciences faculty, Yuan was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University and a research fellow at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics. She earned her doctorate at Stanford University.