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Graduate Students

CREST CAChE is proud to introduce our first graduate student cohort, which includes an interdisciplinary 12-member team from 4 departments - Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Environment, and Computer Sciences.


Deya Banisakher (Computing and Information Sciences)

My main interest is in the medical application of natural language processing, and using machine learning to improve Precision Medicine.

Paolo Benigni (Chemistry)

I’m interested in developing novel techniques/instrumentation for targeted and untargeted analyses of molecules within complex mixtures, such as dissolved organic matter and crude oil. In particular, my work has focused on techniques that integrate ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) with ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) for molecular structure elucidation.

Javier Rodriguez Casariego (Biology)

My research in molecular ecotoxicology and environmental epigenetics focuses on the genetic/epigenetic mechanisms that mediate environmental responses and determine an organism’s capacity for recovery, acclimation, and adaptation. Given what we currently know about the role of post-translational modifications in DNA repair and the regulation of gene expression, I’m interested in how this applies to organism responses to environmental stressors.

Joshua Eisenberg (Computing and Information Sciences)

My research involves natural language processing. I’m currently exploring methods that enable computers to understand narrative, stories, and jazz improvisation.



Ximena Mesa (Biology)

I’m studying the ecology of canals in South Florida, and specifically how net ecosystem productivity and water management can influence nutrient and contaminant removal.

Peter Regier (Chemistry)

I'm generally interested in how organic carbon is transported and transformed in natural systems. My research focuses on the spatiotemporal patterns of organic carbon in the Everglades, and responses to changes in hydrology, management and climate.

Abraham Smith (Biology)

My research involves the development and application of aquatic toxicity studies for the assessment of impacts due to chemical stressors using non-standard indigenous organisms. This includes the methodology behind acquisition of native organisms, culturing/maintenance protocols, developing testing methods, determining applicable toxicological endpoints for assessing adverse effects, the variability and reproducibility of the studies, and probabilistic risk assessment to put the organisms’ sensitivity to the toxicant and potential risk in perspective.

Kalli Unthank (Earth and Environment)

My research involves studying the fate and transport of sulfur and other nutrients along a north-south transect originating in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). I’m also interested in how sulfur from the EAA and the Northern Everglades is impacting mercury methylation that occurs in this area.

Tiffany Yanez (Biology)

I’m a new Master’s student interested in Ecotoxicology, and specifically, how toxic levels of copper can affect predator-prey interactions in the mangrove ecosystems.

Undergraduate Students

Meet the students who are part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).

Tatiana Barreto

I am an Environmental Science undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico. My involvement with the Tropical Limnology Laboratory and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences led me to pursue further research in aquatic sciences, with a focus on water quality and anthropogenic impacts on the environment. I am excited to be a CREST CAChE Undergraduate Research Fellow this summer, because it will allow me to study the ability of mangroves to buffer marine ecosystems from contaminants and pollutants and will equip me with valuable experience for graduate school.


Claudia Kaya Carrion-Banuchi

My experience growing up in Puerto Rico led me to develop a connection to the ocean and a drive to learn more about coastal ecosystems. During my undergraduate career, I have sought opportunities to become more involved in research related to these topics. As a CREST CAChE Undergraduate Research Fellow, I will be working with Dr. Jim Fourqurean and Jason Howard in developing a technique to understand factors that control decomposition rates in seagrass sediments. The techniques I will be developing in Dr. Fourqurean’s lab will be used to understand soil decomposition across Florida Bay and the Florida Keys, and will inform global models of carbon loss in seagrass ecosystems.

Marla Valeria Santos Crespo

I am pursuing a degree in Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico and have a general interest in science and public health. My long-term goal is to become a surgeon. As a CREST CAChE Undergraduate Research Fellow, I hope to gain research experience in environmental chemistry and contribute to research that could be crucial in restoring the health of the Everglades. I also believe this will be a great opportunity to meet inspiring researchers and students in the environmental, chemistry, biology and computer science fields.

Alex Crow

I am a Junior at FIU majoring in Environmental Studies, with a concentration in Natural Resources Sciences. I am interested in how the extraction and use of natural resources can impact the environment, especially in regards to pollution.

Jennie Rivera

I am a native of Puerto Rico and currently participating in the National Student Exchange program at FIU. My research project is aimed at understanding how mangroves filter nutrients and contaminants from freshwater bodies to marine coasts. I am studying this in both South Florida and Puerto Rico. My long term plan is to enroll in FIU’s graduate school to pursue a PhD in Biology. I am excited to be part of CREST CAChE’s Undergraduate Research Fellows Program because of the chance to represent my community in science, and because of the opportunities it may present for future careers.

Abigail Sundberg

I am an undergraduate student at FIU majoring in Chemistry, with a minor in Biology. I have also been serving as an assistant researcher to Dr. Sonia Underwood for education research in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. As part of this summer’s CREST CAChE Undergraduate Research Fellows Program, I am working with Dr. Francisco Fernandez-Lima to identify insecticides and detect where they accumulate inside mosquitoes. I see this project as an opportunity to gain relevant experience in the detection of analytes within a cell, which aligns well with my interests in pharmaceuticals and drug detection within samples.

Each CREST-CAChE student will conduct research that supports the overall mission of the Center in one of the Subprojects; detection/identification of environmental pollutants, tracing movement and fate through various ecosystems, presenting computer visualizations of these and other data findings, and designing and evaluating innovative educational methods. In addition, the students will work together this semester to write a combined paper that synthesizes their diverse, interdisciplinary knowledge of the biological, chemical, hydrologic, social, and big data aspects of environmental contamination.