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Graduate Students

CREST CAChE is proud to introduce our graduate student cohort, which includes an interdisciplinary team from across 5 departments - Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Earth and Environment, Computer and Information Sciences, and Environmental and Occupational Health. Each student conducts research that supports the overall mission of the Center in one or more of our Research Focus Areas: detection/identification of environmental pollutants; tracing movement and fate of pollutants through various ecosystems; assessing risk to our environments and communities, and creating computer-generated syntheses and visualizations of these results; as well as communicating our findings to the public and policymakers.

  • Anteneh Abiy

    Anteneh Abiy

    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Spring 2018

    My research focuses on informing long-term water resources management planning alternatives and priorities to restore freshwater flows to the Everglades and the Biscayne Aquifer. My work is inspired by global tele-connectivity and the adverse impacts of drought in Ethiopia. I hope to generate knowledge and better understandings of the fate of freshwater resources in the Everglades, in the face of droughts, increased groundwater withdrawal and seawater intrusion.

  • Joshua Allen

    Josh Allen

    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Summer 2017

    My research focuses on the hydrogeochemical effects of sea level rise and reduced freshwater flow in the Florida Everglades. Generally, I'm interested in the use of natural geochemical tracers to study the interactions of groundwater and surface water in coastal environments.

    View research poster here 
  • Afia Anjuman

    Afia Anjuman

    Chemistry & Biochemistry, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2017

    I'm interested in analyzing dissolved organic matter from Everglades water and dissolved organic matter produced by periphyton. I would also like to study its role in mercury methylation.

    View research poster here 
  • Deya Banisakher

    Deya Banisakher

    Computing & Information Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2016

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

    View research poster here 

  • Andria Beal


    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2018 

    My Ph.D. dissertation is focused on environmental epigenetics of marine megafauna which includes mostly sharks and dolphins. More specifically, I am interested in using epigenetics as a tool for acquiring ecologically important information such as age and sex, finding biomarkers of exposure to stressors (such as pollutants), and also studying how epigenetics contributes to acclimatization and adaptation to stressors in the environment.

  • Paolo Benigni

    Paolo Benigni

    Chemistry & Biochemistry, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2016

    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.

    View research poster here 

  • Himadri Biswas

    Himadri Biswas

    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Summer 2017

    Himadri is a Ph.D. student (2nd year) at the Department of Earth and Environment, FIU. He is being co-advised by Dr. Keqi Zhang and Dr. Michael Ross. Presently working as a Research Assistant at the South Florida Terrestrial Ecosystems Laboratory (SOFTEL), FIU, Himadri is interested in application of remote sensing, geographical information systems (GIS), and machine learning to understand mangrove dynamics in South Florida.  

  • Lamar Burton

    Electrical Engineering, Joined CREST CAChE in Spring 2019

    As an agricultural scientist, I began my graduate studies in August 2016 with the desire to help reduce global warming by fabricating sensor platforms to optimize the use of nutrient and water resources for plant growth. Currently, I am a doctoral candidate and my research focuses on understanding nutrient-toxin uptake and interaction in plant roots using novel cyber physical plant-on-a-chip devices. 

  • Anthony Castellanos

    Anthony Castellanos

    Chemistry & Biochemistry, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2017

    My research interest involves developing mass spectrometry-based methodologies for the analysis of complex biological targets. I am working to integrate quantitation with sub-micrometric imaging approaches for a more complete understanding of small organisms.

    View research poster here

  • Nicholas Castillo


    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Summer 2018 

    I am a graduate student in the department of Earth and the Environment pursuing my Ph.D. As a member of Dr. Rehage's lab, my primary interests lie in fish ecology and ecotoxicology with my project focusing on the impacts of contaminants to the South Florida Bonefish population utilizing a spatial approach of analysis. Following graduation from Duke University with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy and a concentration in Marine Science Conservation and Leadership, I moved to Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys to teach marine science at an experiential learning school called the Newfound Harbor Marine Institute. After teaching for one year, I moved to Islamorada where I worked as a full-time backcountry/inshore fishing guide for two years, specializing on the entirety of Florida Bay, Biscayne Bay, and the Upper Keys. I seek to take my passion for conservation and knowledge of the intricacies of the Florida Keys fishery and apply it to the study and management of the Bonefish fishery. I am incredibly excited about my partnership with CREST and look forward to the collaborations with other exceptional individuals during this valuable experience. 

  • Cody Eggenberger


    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2018 

    Having broad interests in trophic ecology, movement ecology, and marine ecosystem management, my thesis research focuses on the movement and trophic dynamics of Tarpon and Common Snook in the protected mangrove lakes of north-central Florida Bay. More specifically, I’m investigating how different environmental conditions within the mangrove lake systems may be impacting habitat selection of the two key recreational sportfish species.

  • Joshua Eisenberg

    Joshua Eisenberg

    Computing & Information Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2016

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

  • Marbelys Garriga


    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2018

    My research is mainly focused on ecological restoration of degraded wetlands and using green infrastructure for hydrological management. While pursuing my Ph.D. under Dr. Troxler’s mentorship, I will attempt to understand the benefits of constructed mangrove forests and their potential role against eutrophication. 

  • Serena Hackerott


    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Summer 2018 

    My research in environmental epigenetics is focused on exploring how environmental stressors affect corals and how epigenetic mechanisms may help corals acclimate to stress. I am also interested in determining if epigenetic modifications can be used as biomarkers to indicate the types of stress that corals are experiencing.

  • Cody Henderson

    Cody Henderson

    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Summer 2017

    My interest lies in using a combination of nontarget and target high resolution mass spectrometry analyses to understand both structural and quantitative changes in both known contaminant molecules and previously unknown molecules that may have potential uses as tracers or indicators of water quality.

    View research poster here 

  • Jason Howard

    Jason Howard

    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Spring 2017

    My research focuses on how ecological and environmental context shape CO2 production and carbon storage in seagrass meadows. I'm also interested in methods to best pragmatically communicate and apply carbon science for habitat management and conservation efforts. Check out my student website!

  • Lowell Iporac

    Lowell Iporac

    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Spring 2017

    My research examines interactions between macroalgae and associated mesograzers (small marine invertebrates). I I investigate how suitable macroalgae are as habitat compared to other dominant habitat-forming organisms (i.e. seagrasses, mangroves or corals) and if the physical structure or chemical production of the macroalga are characteristics that determine its suitability as habitat. These interactions between the two taxa can serve as indicators of environmental change.

    View research poster here 

  • Samuel Kent

    Samuel Kent

    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2017

    My research is focused on the canals in Homestead, Florida, an area that features a lot of agricultural nurseries. I will be modeling nutrient loads coming from these areas as well as studying the hydrological impact from agriculture based groundwater pumping.

    View research poster here

  • Steven Landeweer


    Chemistry & Biochemistry, joined CREST CAChE in Summer 2018

    The main focus of my research is the use of mass spectrometry to determine the abundance and fate of UV filter compounds in the marine environment, particularly in and around Biscayne National Park.

  • Dennys Leyva


    Chemistry & Biochemistry, joined CREST CAChE in Summer 2018 

    My research interest involves developing new analytical methods for the characterization of complex organic mixtures at the molecular level such as DOM from subtropical wetlands and emissions and byproducts from energy consumption in urban areas.  Specifically, my goal is to integrate tandem high-resolution trapped ion mobility spectrometry and ultra high-resolution mass spectrometry (TIMS-FT-ICR MS/MS) for structural identification.

  • Christian Lopes

    Christian Lopes

    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Spring 2017

    I'm fascinated by the opportunity to manage ecosystems holistically, improving the synergistic functioning between ecosystems while satisfying economic, environmental and social obligations. My current research is aimed at modeling the effects of eutrophication and thermal stress on ecosystem carbon metabolism. I am using a dominant seagrass in our region to inform on how organic and inorganic carbon flow through near shore systems. This work has potential to inform resource managers on CO2 mitigation strategies, under the pressures of a changing environment.

    View research poster here

  • Ximena Mesa

    Ximena Mesa

    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2016

    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.

    View research poster here 
  • Angelica Moncada

    Angelica Moncada

    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2017

    I am generally interested in Geosciences, and the fate and transport of nutrients and toxins in freshwater bodies. My research will focus on the spatiotemporal variation of these contaminants along the Everglades National Park.

    View research poster here 

  • Brian Ng


    Chemistry & Biochemistry, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2018 

    My research interest lies in the use of non-target analysis using high-resolution mass spectrometry to characterize and remediate urban waters.

  • Ikechukwu (Ike) Onwuka


    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2017
    My research involves the evaluation of the forms and stores of phosphorus and the drivers of phosphorus transformations across watersheds, with a focus on sediment pools. I will also be testing the use of waste materials for phosphorus capture and reuse.
  • Melinda Paduani

    paduani headshot

    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Summer 2018

    I am interested in the ecological and social factors that drive the accumulation and distribution of marine debris (more specifically, plastics) in coastal ecosystems. I have been drawn to mangrove wetlands ever since I started research on mangroves in my undergraduate career, and my current research is focused on those environments around Biscayne Bay

  • Christian Perez

    Christian Perez

    Environmental & Occupational Health, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2017

    My work focuses on transcriptomic gene microarray analysis in the development of diseases with environmental origins. My project will integrate RFAs 1 & 3 by testing both ecological concentrations of relevant chemicals resulting in adverse vascular dysfunction and machine learning bioinformatics data of ID3 target genes, in order to model and predict adverse effects in susceptible populations. I'm interested in applying the results from my transcriptomic data using zebrafish as an animal model for exposure to relevant doses of these environmental toxicants.

    View research poster here 
  • Samira Pouyanfar

    Samira Pouyanfar

    Computing & Information Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Spring 2017

    I am a Ph.D. candidate and currently working as a research assistant in the Distributed Multimedia Information System (DMIS) lab at the School of Computing and Information Sciences (SCIS) under supervision of Prof. Shu-Ching Chen. My research interests include data science, data mining, machine learning, big data, and information retrieval.

  • Maria Presa-Reyes

    Maria Presa

    Computing & Information Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Spring 2017

    My research interest is mainly multimedia data mining, specifically the application of machine learning to data generated by remote-sensing technologies. I'm currently working on a 3D visualization that shows the dangers of storm surge flooding in coastal areas, by using information from satellite images and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data.

  • Peter Regier

    Peter Regier

    Chemistry & Biochemistry, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2016

    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.

    View research poster here

  • Javier Rodriguez-Casariego

    Javier Casariego

    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2016

    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.

    View research poster here

  • Fernando Rodriguez


    Architecture, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2018

    My research focuses on data visualization. Taking prior knowledge on 3D modeling, animation, virtual reality, and augmented reality. My research focuses on the application of real-time scientific data into interactive and immersive 3D environments and analytics

  • Abraham Smith

    Abe Smith

    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Spring 2017

    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.

    View research poster here

  • Matt Smith

    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Spring 2018

    I'm interested in how urban flood quantity and quality dynamics may change in response to extreme climate events. My research focuses on the spatiotemporal patterns of urban water quality and sources across a range of climate scenarios and gradients of land-use and hydrologic modification.  

  • Alejandro Torres


    Computer & Information Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2018

    My interest is in develop Artificial Intelligence technologies, using my civil engineer knowledge, that can be applied in the industry for more efficient and safe work.

  • Jorge Tubella


    Architecture, joined CREST CAChE in Summer 2018

    My research is focused on automating construction. Specifically utilizing the high accuracy industrial robots and augmenting them with Artificial Intelligence. There has always been a significant delay in the construction industry to keep up with technology. This research will help bridge the gap between technology and construction and allow for more accurate, faster, and safer construction sites than ever before; expanding the world of advanced digital fabrication.

  • Kalli Unthank

    Kalli Unthank

    Earth & Environment, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2016

    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 in this area.

    View research poster here
  • Rosario Vidales


    Environmental Studies, joined CREST CaChE in Summer 2017

    My research is focused on red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) within the scrub and tree island landscape of the Southeast Saline Everglades. I am interested in quantifying the intraspecific variation in leaf traits of red mangrove with variation in soil nutrient concentration and pore water salinity.

  • Tiffany Yanez

    Tiffany Yanez

    Biological Sciences, joined CREST CAChE in Fall 2016

    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.

    View research poster here

Undergraduate Students

  • Tatiana Barreto

    Tatiana Barreto

    Joined our Summer 2017 Research Fellowship

    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 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.

    View research poster here
  • Connor Born


    Joined our Summer 2018 Research Fellowship

    I was born and raised in Kansas, where I discovered a profound passion for science while camping in Colorado and finding insects in my backyard. My interest in the human relationship with nature led me to study biology to become a scientist. For my CREST CAChE research project, I am working with Dr. Rene Price and Shimelis Dessu, looking at ground and surface water interaction with mangroves by using YSI probes to monitor the quality and behavior of the water and understand the water flow system.

    View research poster here.

  • Claudia "Kaya" Carrion-Banuchi

    Kaya Carrion

    Joined our Summer 2017 Research Fellowship

    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.

    View research poster here 

  • Marla Valeria Santos Crespo

    Marla Santos

    Joined our Summer 2017 Research Fellowship

    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.
    View research poster here 
  • Alex Crow

    Alex Crow

    Joined our Summer 2017 Research Fellowship

    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.
    View research poster here
  • Anthony Duruewuru


    Joined our Summer 2018 Research Fellowship

    I was born in Washington DC and lived in Nigeria for 7 years, where I developed a strong passion for medicine while attending school and I am now studying Human Biology at Cornell University. During this summer with CREST, I am working with Dr. Francisco Fernandez-Lima, Anthony Castellanos, and Dr. Kiera Lucas on applying analytical chemistry to observe the lipid profiles of mosquitoes after exposure to pesticides. 

    View research poster here. 

  • Mia Lamirand


    Joined our Summer 2018 Research Fellowship

    I grew up in Colorado and moved to Hawaii to pursue my passion for the ocean as my career, so now I am studying Marine Science at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. For my CREST CAChE research project, I am working at the Seagrass Ecosystems Research Lab, taking part in the seagrass monitoring program and expanding the heterotroph and organisms survey of the seagrass beds. I will also measure spatial and temporal trends of heterotrophs in relation to seagrass using GIS technology

    View research poster here.  

  • Kathleen Lugo

    Kathleen Lugo

    My name is Kathleen Lugo, I’m a transfer Chemistry major from the University of Puerto Rico. I am currently a senior planning on going for a PhD in Environmental Chemistry. I’m particularly interested in water geochemistry, currently I am the president of the American Chemical Society at FIU- BBC campus as well as an ACS Scholar and have been working for the last couple of years on various ways of improving water quality through chemical reactions.

  • Jennie Rivera

    Jennie Rivera

    Joined our Summer 2017 Research Fellowship

    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.

    View research poster here 

  • Juan Sanchez


    Joined our Summer 2018 Research Fellowship

    I grew up in Puerto Rico surrounded by the ocean, discovering marine life and exploring nature and I'm now studying Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. Due to my passion for the ocean, I started working a few years ago with my two CREST CAChE mentors, Javier Rodríguez Casariego and Alex Mercado on the epigenetics of coral reefs. This summer I am working at the Eirin-Lopez Environmental Epigenetics lab, where I'm analyzing the effects of environmental factors on coral genes and the role of epigenetics during coral recovery.

    View research poster here. 

  • Rose Santana


    Joined our Summer 2018 Research Fellowship

    My name is Rose Santana and I was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Germany, before moving to the U.S. in 2015 to pursue a degree in biology. I am a junior working at the Ecotoxicology and Risk Assessment Laboratory at FIU (BBC) and I am learning about the effects of copper on the swim performance in Sailfin Mollies. My long-term goal is to go to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D.  in Marine Biology.

    View research poster here. 

  • Andrea Santiago


    Joined our Summer 2018 Research Fellowship

    was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but when Hurricane Maria struck the island, FIU stepped up and offered their support for me to move to South Florida to continue my Biology degree. Since then, I joined CREST CAChE and for my research project, I've been working closely with my mentors, Alex Mercado and Natalia Quinete, on determining the stress responses and impacts that different concentrations of methylmercury have on mosquito fish.

    View research poster here. 

  • Clara Smith


    Joined our Summer 2018 Research Fellowship

    I was born and raised in Colorado, but due to my passion for the outdoors and the ocean I moved to the island of Hawaii to become a marine scientist at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. Under the CREST mentorship of Drs. Michael Ross and Danielle Ogurcak, I am looking at the role of mangroves as environmental filters, by analyzing mangrove leaves for metals to see if they’re absorbing contaminants before they make it to the ocean. 

    View research poster here.

  • Abigail Sundberg

    Abigail Sundberg

    Joined our Summer 2017 Research Fellowship

    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.

    View research poster here