Meet a Scientist

September 2016 Cafe: The Cool Side of the Cosmos

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Dr. Martin Israel 

About the Speaker: Professor Martin Israel, grew up in Chicago, and was an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago and a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology before joining the Washington University faculty, in the Department of Physics, in 1968.  He has taught physics and astrophysics courses at all levels, from introductory courses for non-science majors, to undergraduate courses for physics majors, to graduate astrophysics courses.  He does research on cosmic-ray astrophysics using electronic instruments on stratospheric balloons and on various spacecraft.

March 2016: Cell Biology: How Cells Get in Shape!

Ram Dixit, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis

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Ram Dixit

Ram Dixit has been fascinated by Biology since high school and got hooked on cells from the time he first saw them under a microscope.

He earned his B.S. in Biochemistry from SUNY Stony Brook and Ph.D. in Plant Molecular Biology from Cornell University working on cell-cell communication. As a postdoctoral researcher at Penn State University and University of Pennsylvania, he worked on figuring out mechanisms underlying cell shape formation. His lab in the Biology Department at Washington University in St. Louis continues to work on this problem and they focus on understanding how protein polymers that make up the cytoskeleton determine cell organization, shape and function. They love to use fluorescence microscopy to watch cellular structures in action! When he is not on the microscope or teaching, he enjoys hiking, cooking and reading.

October 2015: Math Explorations: Graphs, Paths, and Unsolved Questions in Mathematics

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Adam Weyhaupt

Adam Weyhaupt grew up in the St. Louis area received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and computer science from Eastern Illinois University.  After finishing a Ph.D. in mathematics from Indiana University in 2006, he began his career at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where he is now an associate professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.  His academic interests are varied and include the interaction of geometry and topology in minimal surfaces (mathematical models of soap bubbles and films) and in the interaction of mathematics and social choice theory.  In his spare time, he enjoys being outdoors (camping, hiking, and boating) with his wife and two sons.

May 2015: Designing Games for Science

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John Coveyou

John Coveyou currently teaches middle school chemistry and physics and has also taught the core sciences at all grade levels from the middle grades to college. A St. Louis native, he attended Washington University, earning a bachelors’ degree in biology and a master’s degree in engineering. John started Genius Games “with the mission of using games to cultivate a joy for science and stimulate inquisitive minds.” His first game, Linkage: A DNA Card Game, was featured in Popular Science Magazine as one of “The 10 Best Things from February 2015.”

March 2015: Aerospace Engineering: Design Challenge!

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Mitch Pace

My name is Mitch Pace and I’ve always had a knack for math, science, and all-around problem solving. This is what engineers live for. I’d spend hours just thinking of ways and little inventions to improve my life and the lives of others.

I grew up in the small town of Waterloo, IL, until I was thirteen. My family then moved to Katy, TX, where my path to become an aerospace engineer (currently employed by Boeing) began. I was and still am fascinated by flight, space, and really anything not tethered to the ground. “How does it all stay up there?” I would ponder. Thanks to my wonderful teachers in high school, I was guided in the right direction so that I may answer that question myself in the years following.

I graduated with a B.S. In Aerospace Engineering in 2012 from Texas A&M University. The opportunities that my and any other college offer are critical for developing the skills to make a difference in the engineering world whether it’s within academia or industry. I’ve led a multifunctional materials research project, designed part of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, analyzed loads for the F-15, and many more!

Among these opportunities, my internships at Boeing ultimately led me to where I am today. Officially, I am a mass properties engineer focused on the weight and balance of  an aircraft. It is an integral part of the other disciplines at Boeing that work hard to make a plane fly. The five main groups are:

Configuration Design – What shape should fly?

Aerodynamics – How well will it fly?

Propulsion – Will it fly fast enough?

Guidance and Control – Will it fly in the right direction?

Mass Properties – Will it get off the ground or fall out of the sky?

Engineering, aerospace or otherwise, really is a team sport that relies on the collaboration and knowledge transfer between new and experienced problem solvers. I work with truly amazing people on state-of-the-art projects, but I can’t wait to see how the upcoming generation of scientists and engineers change our world for the better.


February 2015: Furry Friend or Perilous Pest? Exploring the Connection Between Wildlife and Human Health

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Kelly Lane-deGraaf

Dr. Kelly Lane-deGraaf is a disease ecologist.  She completed her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Denver, her Master’s degree at Saint Louis University, and her PhD at the University of Notre Dame.  She has worked with black-tailed prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, several species of bats, including Northern long-ears, tri-colored bats, big and little brown bats, and hoary bats, long-tailed macaques and leaf monkeys, African buffalo, and all of their parasites.  Her current work focuses on how human activities drive host and parasite actions in 2 systems – raccoons right here in St. Louis and macaques in Southeast Asia.  She is currently an Assistant Professor at Fontbonne University where she coordinates the Center for One Health.


January 2015: Nanotechnology – The Science of the Small

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Suzanne Lapi

Dr. Suzanne E. Lapi received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Simon Fraser University 2007 while making cool radioisotopes at The Tri-Universities Meson Facility (TRIUMF) in Vancouver, Canada. She went on as post-doctoral scholar at University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) developing agents for Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging. Suzanne is currently an associate professor in the Department of Radiology at Washington University in St. Louis and also holds appointments in Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering. She holds several federally funded grants and has authored over 40 publications. Her research interests are in the production of novel radioisotopes for medicine and development of new radiopharmaceuticals for cancer imaging.

She first became interested in chemistry after finding out that cooking (one of her favorite hobbies now) was really just tasty chemistry. Then she was excited to learn about a field called nuclear chemistry where you could actually transform one element into another – alchemy! She proceeded to become a modern day alchemist and she now has a bucket load of fun transmogrifying all kinds of elements into cancer seeking agents on a daily basis


October 2014: The Tangled Jungle Path to Primatology with Jennifer Rehg

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Jennifer Rehg

Jennifer Rehg received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis in 1995, and her master’s and PhD from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in bioanthropology in 2003. Her research focuses on living primate behavior and ecology in the neotropics, in Brazil and more recently Peru. There she studies the rare and little-known callimico and closely-related tamarin monkeys, with a focus on how they use their environments and how human activities may affect their populations. She has been a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at SIUE since 2004, and teaches courses on primatology, forensic anthropology, and biology of human behavior. She is currently Chair of the Department of Anthropology and Coordinator of the Forensic Sciences Minor, and is a board member of the Watershed Nature Center, located in the city of Edwardsville.


September 2014: 3D Printing – The Power to Create with Alex Madinger

Credit: Alex Madinger

Credit: Alex Madinger

Hey! My name is Alex. I graduated from college last year in mechanical engineering, which basically means I like to build gadgets. I actually didn’t know what engineering was through most of high school, I just knew I wanted to be an “inventor.”

I was always fascinated by new advances in science, it was like we were figuring out this great big puzzle that was the universe. Each new discovery was a new puzzle piece put down, and let us do more cool stuff. In addition to that, I wanted my work to be meaningful, exciting (to me mostly), and help others. I’m very glad I became a scientist and engineer, because I get to do that now!

 College was crucial for doing this. Let alone getting the degree, each new mechanism and law of nature I learned was something I could use to build things. The more I learned, the cooler stuff I could make. I also got to meet like-minded people that became friends and supported what I wanted to do.

Getting to see my inventions work, and more importantly help someone, is what keeps me going as a scientist. Last year I was able to help a little boy by building a functionally prosthetic hand for him. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he was able to hold something with it for the first time.

Science is advancing very quickly now, and we are going to start doing things in the next decades that would have seemed impossible even a few years ago. I’m very happy as a scientist, and excited for what is ahead!


April 2014: Defying Gravity: Aerospace Innovation Challenge with Drs. Condoor and Ravindra

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Sridhar Condoor

Dr. Sridhar Condoor became Interim Chair of the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering in August 2013. He is also the Program Director for the Mechanical Engineering, a KEEN fellow, a Coleman Fellow, the editor of the Journal of Engineering Entrepreneurship. Condoor teaches sustainability, product design, and entrepreneurship. His research interests are in the areas of design theory and methodology, technology entrepreneurship, and sustainability. He is spearheading Technology Entrepreneurship education at SLU via Innovation to Product (I2P), iChallenge, and entrepreneurship competitions and funded research. He is the Principal Investigator for the KEEN Entrepreneurship Program Development Grants to foster the spirit of innovation in all engineering students.

Condoor authored several books. The titles include Innovative Conceptual Design, Engineering Statics, and Modeling with ProEngineer. He published several technical papers on topics focused on conceptual design, design principles, cognitive science as applied to design, and design education. VayuWind, a hubless wind turbine for urban environments, is one of his inventions. VayuWind deploys airfoils parallel to the rotational axis in such a way that, unlike other windmills, it rotates around a ring frame, leaving the central portion open for other uses. This enables VayuWind to extract wind power using existing structures such as commercial buildings and skywalks with minimal noise pollution.


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K. Ravindra

Dr. Ravindra is currently the Associate Dean of Parks College. He has been with Parks since 1987, when he joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor.  He also served as the Department Chair of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at Parks College from 1996-2009, and as Associate Dean and Interim Chair during 2009-2010. In July 2010, Dr. Ravindra served as the Interim Dean until June 2012. Prior to teaching at SLU he was an Assistant Professor of Aeronautics at Dowling College in Oakdale, New York.He has taught graduate courses in fluid dynamics and aerospace structural analysis  At the undergraduate level he has taught a variety of courses, including Introduction to Aeronautics & Astronautics, Flight Vehicle Design I, Flight Vehicle Design II, Mechanics of Solids, Introduction to Structural Design, Aerospace Structures I & II, Machine Design, Aerodynamics Laboratory, Stability and Control, Airplane Performance, Fluid Dynamics, Thermodynamics and General Aeronautics.

Dr. Ravindra is a Fellow of ASME, an Associate Fellow of AIAA and a Member of ASEE.  He was honored as an Associate Member of SIGMA XI, The Scientific Research Society, a Member of TAU BETA PI, The Engineering Honor Society, a Member of PHI KAPPA PHI, The Honor Society and an Honorary member of ALPHA ETA RHO. He received the Student Government Faculty Excellence Award in Spring 2006 and the Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award in 2003—an honor conferred by the Association of Parks College Students.


March 2014: What Woke You Up? The Science of Biological Clocks with Erik Herzog, PHD, and team, Washington University in St. Louis

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Eric Herzog

I earned my B.A. in Biology and Spanish from Duke University and Ph.D. in BME/Neuroscience from Syracuse University. After 6 wonderful years as a postdoc at the University of Virginia, I joined the Biology Department at Washington University in St. Louis where I research biological clocks that drive near 24-hour rhythms in behavior and physiology and that are found in a wide variety of organisms and cell types.

My lab at the university, The Herzog Lab, studies the cellular and molecular basis of these circadian rhythms in mammals.  We use techniques that include planar electrode arrays, cellular imaging and genetic manipulations (i.e. mutants, knockouts, and transgenics).

When I am not in the lab, biking to the lab or from the lab, I am playing outdoors with my wife and two boys.


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Tracey Hermanstyne

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Thomas Wang

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Matt Tso


Tracey Hermanstyne – I joined the Herzog lab as a Postdoctoral Fellow in April 2012. I received a B.S. in Biology from Howard University and PhD in Neuroscience from University of Maryland, Baltimore. My current research aims to elucidate the ionic currents that modulate excitability of suprachiasmatic nucleus neurons throughout the day.


Matt Tso – I received my B.S. From the University of Wisconsin, Madison. My research aims to understand the role of astrocytes in circadian biology.  I combine in vivo transgenic manipulations with physiology and behavior to perturb normal functions in glia. When I’m not in the lab I am serving volleyballs down my opponents throat.


Thomas Wang – I am an undergraduate in Neuroscience track pursuing an honors thesis. My current research interest involves recording bioluminescence in SCN neurons to understand how they communicate with each other to maintain a synchronous network.


February 2014: Super Lasers with Jack Glassman, PHD, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

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Jack Glassman

I grew up in the heart of New York City, and enjoyed engaging in science as far back as I can remember.

Through my explorations of STEM fields in high school, I became entranced by light and its properties, persuading me to pursue a Bachelor’s of Science in Physics from the University of Arizona, and a Master’s of Science in Physics and Ph.D. in Optical Sciences from the University of New Mexico.

I enjoy spending time with my wife, dog, and army of cats (in our “hobbit hole” house). I have cultivated a diverse orchard and spend a great deal of time working my garden when the weather allows for it. When the weather is less nice, I occupy my time with experimental laser physics and video games – usually not at the same time.


November 2013: Bad Air with Glenn Morrison, PHD, Missouri University of Science and Technology

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Glenn Morrison

I have early memories of standing in my front yard, in central Florida, watching the rockets rise from Cape Canaveral. I’m pretty sure I saw the one that first took Armstrong to the moon in 1969, but I was only 4, so maybe it’s just a false memory! But the excitement of discovery really stuck with me, and there were so many questions like: why did the flame have to be so big to lift that teeny rocket? Many science fiction novels later, I was pretty well hooked on science. But I was also attracted to music, cars, and of course girls: a typical boy in the 70’s.

By my senior year of high school, I was playing professionally and was conflicted about what direction I wanted to go. I loved music, but I also had this dream that I could be just like the professor on Gilligan’s Island (who could make radios out of coconuts, bamboo and fruit). I decided to spend two more years at home, go to the local junior college and figure things out. This turned out to be one of my few brilliant ideas. In this time, I found that I really wanted to learn more about chemistry, physics and, surprising to me, math of all things. Time to head off to MIT?

Well… no.  I really wanted to study chemical engineering, but I was also convinced I HAD to be near the beach. So, I chose to go to the University of California-San Diego where I got a good education, but also spent a LOT of time in the water or at the beach.  Can you blame me? Even so, this probably didn’t help my GPA! It wasn’t until I was working as a chemical engineer for a start-up in Silicon Valley that my classes really kicked in. I was lucky: I got to work on lots of really fun projects needing serious creativity.  I got to design a teeny catalytic converter for a cigarette (actually used in the Asian market for a while), gas-sniffing sensors for air pollution, and high-temperature reactors for making pharmaceuticals.

About this time, my girlfriend went off to law school in Berkeley and I kind of missed her. So I decided to go up there too, just to get my Master’s degree. You know, just a year, see how it goes. After one week on campus, I was hooked on school again. I immediately decided to go straight through with my PhD and become a professor. I was faced with a major decision: what should I study? My chemical engineering experience was excellent for any investigation of the physics and chemistry of environmental systems, so I just needed to find some unsolved problems and I’d be set.

I decided to study indoor environments. Why? Mostly because nobody else was doing it! This was a wide-open field with plenty of questions to answer; you can have a high impact and you live in your lab…pretty much all the time!I’ve been at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla) for about 12 years, doing some really fun work. Since each of us lives in a complex little environment, we’ve studied just about everything: cooking, cleaning, air cleaners, fake air cleaners, lots and lots of chemistry. We studied chemistry of paint, skin, clothing, hair, perfume, carpet and toys. We’ve done experiments in classrooms, homes, offices and even studied meth labs. Everything is fair game! And, just as with any area of science, there are always new questions.  This is who I am: a curious guy that likes to figure out how things work and then find ways to make them work better.


October 2013: CosmoQuest with Nicole Gugliucci, PHD, SIUE STEM Center

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Nicole Gugliucci

Dr. Nicole Gugliucci is an astronomer and educator at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She helps run a citizen science project called CosmoQuest where anyone in the world can do science, contributing to data analysis of several NASA missions. As the informal education lead, she produces and supports several live weekly video shows online, blogs about science, and helps to present the best possible science information to the citizen scientists. She also works with teachers to bring authentic data into the classroom experience. Her background is in radio astronomy and instrumentation as she helped develop and build a low frequency radio telescope prototype in West Virginia and eventually South Africa.

Dr. Gugliucci is passionate about science outreach and has helped to develop hands-on astronomy activities and demonstrations for all ages. She also blogs for Discovery News: Space, Skepchick, and School of Doubt.


September 2013: Giant Tortoises, Backyard Turtles with Stephen Blake, PHD, Washington University and St. Louis Zoo

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Stephen Blake

I always wanted to be a vet, but the careers officer at my school laughed when I told him, and said, “Don’t bother, you are not clever enough!” Unfortunately in those days I listened to adults, and thought he must be right (he probably was) and so I didn’t try. As I grew older, the only thing that was clear to me was that I did not want a proper job. I flirted with horse racing as a stable lad in the hope of making it as a jockey, but didn’t like whipping horses. I finally decided that something to do with wildlife would be rewarding and potentially good for the planet, and still would not be a “proper” job.

I began this line of work by complete chance. I was working as a gorilla keeper at Howletts Zoo in the U.K., and was just about to leave for a trip to Australia when the zoo director asked whether I would like to work in the Congo with orphan gorillas. I jumped at the chance! Then, after a couple of years working in Brazzaville with baby gorillas, I met a guy called Mike Fay who worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society. His team was doing amazing things for conservation in the northern Congo, and at some point we cobbled a job together for me in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. One thing led to another and I ended up doing a Ph.D. on the movement ecology of forest elephants. Congo was home for over a decade, and a place of work for about 17 years. Then another chance event happened: My wife, who is a wildlife vet, got a job on the Galápagos Islands, and we moved there in 2007. In mid-2008, I met a guy called Martin Wikelski in Amsterdam at a workshop aimed at setting up an online animal-tracking database called Movebank.org. After some good Dutch beer he offered me a post doc with the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology working on Galápagos tortoise migrations. Despite knowing next to nothing about Galápagos ecology, and even less about tortoises, I readily accepted. It’s a funny old world!!

I am always uncomfortable when people say that I have dedicated my life to my subject. Certainly I have spent a lot of years working very hard for conservation, but this work has given me an amazingly rich and fulfilling life, and has taken me to some of the most remote and beautiful locations on Earth. Unlike many people on Earth, I have never been really hungry. We often take that for granted, yet in reality it is a privilege. I think the dedicated people are the poorly paid park rangers or the under-appreciated mechanic who fixes up the wildlife department’s vehicles and never gets a pat on the back for dedicating his life. No one takes photos of them, writes articles on their work, or calls them conservation heroes. Yet without people like them, people like me could not function, and conservation would be in even deeper trouble.


April 2013: Emergency Room Medicine with Jason Wagner, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Washington University and Barnes Jewish Hospital

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Jason Wagner

I grew up in rural North Dakota where my father was a small-town family practice doctor.  As you can imagine, I found achievement to be relatively important, and was encouraged to do well. During high school I participated in both athletic and academic competitions advancing to the state level in academic trivia competitions and winning a red ribbon at the state science fair.  Athletically, I was named to the all-state football team and was a two-time state wrestling champion as well as an Asics National Academic All-American in wrestling.  This helped me to enter college at the U. of Minnesota where I wrestled in Division 1 and hoped to complete a pre-medical degree. For those of you who don’t already know this, D1 is the highest college division for sports. This basically constitutes a full-time job, and doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like homework, studying, and worrying about your grades. Pre-med is also like having a full-time job, and to succeed at moving forward you really need to immerse yourself in time-intensive activities like undergraduate research, study groups, and volunteer opportunities.

My grades were dropping, and I quickly discovered that too much time wrestling and not enough studying was not going to get me into medical school, so I decided to take some time to think. You can’t really take time to just think while you’re balancing D1 sports and high-level academics, so I chose to do something that would give my brain a break from academic life. I settled on a four-year commitment to serving in the United States Army as an Airborne Infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.  You may not know this, but while the Army helps you to develop as a strong and skilled individual, they do a lot of the thinking for you. Believe me when I say this – I had a lot of time to think. After my term of service, I had completely re-established my priorities, and I was ready to hit the books again.

With a readjusted perspective, my grades did much better the second time around, and I still did well in sports. I completed my undergraduate education at the U. of North Dakota, where I was a NCAA two-time All-American and three-time Academic All-American and graduated Magna Cum Laude. I proceeded to medical school at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center where I served as student council representative for all four years as well as class president for two years and finally the student council president before graduating in 2001.

Once you’re finished with medical school, you aren’t really a doctor yet. You have to complete something called a residency, which is very similar to an internship. The idea is that you practice medicine with your degree under the supervision of fully licensed and experienced doctors. I completed my residency at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis serving as Chief Resident during my final year of training in 2005.  I enjoyed Washington University so much, I stayed on as faculty and became board certified in emergency medicine.  I continue to serve as an assistant professor, in charge of resident education and directing our division’s Center for Augmented Learning (this focuses on alternative education like simulations, online modules, and digital devices). One of the more fun parts of this job involves traveling to speak throughout the U.S and occasionally overseas.

Outside of the Emergency Department, I continue to serve my nation as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Missouri Air National Guard working as a flight surgeon supporting F-15‘s and Stealth Bombers.  My Air Force roles also involve emergency and critical care flight medicine working in areas from Iceland to Panama.  Many people would imagine that, doing so much, there isn’t a lot of time for a personal life – but they’re wrong! I left out the part of the story where I got married and had kids. I enjoy spending time with my wife and children, and love watching them grow.

If I had one message for you to end with, it would be this: you don’t have to sacrifice sports, fun, or love to be good at science or academics in general, but if you want to succeed, determine what gets you excited and work to be exceptional in that area while maintaining balance in the rest of your life.

More about the Author:
Dr. Jason Wagner is currently an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Washington University where he is in charge of resident education and is director of the division’s Center for Augmented Learning who’s focus is on health care provider education through alternative education methods such as simulation, online modules, and digital devices.  He has lectured throughout the United States as well as overseas in areas ranging from medical technology, simulation, education, and difficult airway management.  He writes technology and airway articles for monthly publications, medical journals and textbooks.  Dr. Wagner was recently awarded the 2012 National Emergency Medicine Faculty Teaching Award from the American College of Emergency Physicians for his efforts in education.  He regularly posts medical information on his website www.EmedEpicenter.com as well as www.Twitter.com where you can follow him @TheTechDoc.  Dr. Wagner lives in Crestwood, MO with his wife Kristen Wagner, Ph.D. (an assistant professor of Social Work at UMSL) and his son Drew who is a Freshman at Lindbergh High School.  His twin daughters Jadee and Amanda are currently seniors at Mizzou.


March 2013: Bionics with Dan Moran, PHD, Washington University

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Dan Moran

Dan Moran is an associate professor in biomedical engineering with a secondary appointments in Neurobiology and Physical Therapy at the school of medicine. His primary research involves voluntary motor control and the control signals necessary to restore movement in paralyzed individuals through implantable devices. Dr. Moran’s work draws from his background in electrical engineering, movement biomechanics, and systems neurophysiology.

Professor Moran’s research interests include voluntary motor control and neuroprostheses. He works to understand how the brain controls voluntary upper arm movements and he is also working to identify alternative control signals for brain-computer interfaces, which restores function in patients who have paralysis or neuromuscular disorders.Prior to joining Washington University in 2001, Professor Moran studied motor systems neurophysiology as a junior and associate fellow at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California.


February 2013: Zombies with Terri Rebmann, PHD, RN, CIC: Institute for Biosecurity, SLU

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Terri Rebmann

I have always been interested in the life sciences. For most of my childhood, I dreamed of seeing the ocean and becoming a marine biologist, but I suffer from debilitating sea sickness, so figured that career would not be a good choice for me. Soon after I started high school, my younger brother became ill with two serious diseases and I watched him suffer through painful treatments and surgeries. I wanted to heal him, but was helpless to do anything. I also learned that his diseases were both genetic, meaning that it was only luck of the draw that I did not have the same illnesses as he. Around this same time period, I took an anatomy and physiology class that (literally) changed my life. That class taught me about the thousands of intricate pieces of the human body, how they all work together, and how easily one tiny part can go slightly awry and cause major problems. It made me realize what a miracle it is that any of us are healthy and that our bodies work correctly! I loved that class so much that I knew I wanted a career in one of the health sciences, and perhaps study ways to help my brother and others with similar diseases.

I studied nursing in college and joined the military for a summer internship to gain some work experience. Through a ridiculously embarrassing failure to read the fine print in the application, I ended up being assigned to a maximum security federal prison hospital. [Yikes!] While I was there, I worked with a lot of patients who had HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted diseases. Some people would have made a run for it, but not me; I became fascinated with infectious diseases. I pursued a master’s degree to work with HIV/AIDS patients, but couldn’t find a job after graduation. A friend of mine persuaded me to work in hospital epidemiology, which is the study of infectious diseases that occur in hospitals. I loved that career because it combined a lot of my interests, but I became tired of outbreaks that occurred (or were reported, anyway) on Friday afternoons and consumed my entire weekend or holiday “breaks”.

In 2000, a friend of mine who worked at Saint Louis University told me that he had received a grant to study bioterrorism (the intentional use of biological agents to harm or kill civilians) and asked me if I wanted to make a career change. It sounded like a quiet career with fewer outbreaks, so I jumped on it. One year later, 9/11 occurred and was followed quickly by the largest bioterrorism attack in U.S. history, the 2001 anthrax incident. Soon after, the world discovered a brand new disease that had a relatively high death rate, with no known vaccine or treatment: severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). That outbreak fascinated me because it started in Hong Kong and spread around the entire world in less than 2 days! My career expanded at that time to examine not only bioterrorism, but also naturally occurring outbreaks of new diseases, such as SARS, and disaster preparedness in general.

SLU decided to develop a master’s degree program in biosecurity (preparing professionals to identify and prevent the spread of large-scale infectious disease events). In order to teach and do research in that area, I needed a PhD, so I went back to school. Since getting my PhD, I have continued to work in this field and I still love it. Every day is different, exciting, and challenging because there are always new events occurring. In addition to my experience with 9/11, anthrax, and SARS, I’ve helped respond to Hurricane Katrina, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the Haitian earthquake, the Japanese disaster (Tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear meltdown), Hurricane Sandy, and many other disasters. I hadn’t even heard of smallpox or anthrax when I was in high school, and this career option was never mentioned to me by a school guidance counselor. I could never have anticipated the career that I have found, but I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else.