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2014 Participants

Reggie Bain (Physics)

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Bain is currently a second-year PhD student in physics, where he conducts research on theoretical particle physics under Thomas Mehen in Duke’s Lattice and Effective Field Theory group. He is specifically interested in the study of quantum chromodynamics, effective field theories, and quarkonium production at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Bain received a BS in physics and mathematics from the University of South Carolina in 2012. He is also passionate about teaching and science outreach activities. In his free time he enjoys working out, watching USC Gamecock sports, and reading popular science.              

Rory Bradley (German Studies)

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Bradley is currently a fifth-year PhD student in the Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies. Originally from eastern Pennsylvania, he received his BA from the College of Letters at Wesleyan University in Connecticut before relocating to North Carolina. Before entering graduate school to pursue his PhD, Bradley worked for an independent high school and for a nonprofit organization called the Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World. His PhD work focuses on ghosts and ghost stories in the literature and philosophy of the late Enlightenment. When he is not scaring himself with these old stories, Bradley enjoys playing music, brewing his own beer, and participating in the local independent film scene. He and his wife have written and directed two short films together since 2011, with more in the works.

Matt Crowe (Pharmacology and Cancer Biology)

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Crowe is a fifth-year graduate student in the Pharmacology and Cancer Biology department at Duke University. He grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, before traveling to Florida to earn his BS in biology at the University of Tampa in 2007. After graduation, he worked as a research assistant at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa for two years. Inspired by research, Crowe entered the Program in Cell and Molecular Biology at Duke in 2009. His research focuses on identifying critical signaling pathways in cancer that may serve as therapeutic targets. In his free time, he enjoys hiking and backpacking, cooking, and brewing craft beer.

Shraddha Desai, PhD (Medicine-Oncology)

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Desai is a postdoctoral associate at Duke University. Her love for science began when she was introduced to the world of biochemistry during her undergraduate degree at University of Mumbai, India. Desai’s insatiable interest in the subject kept her engaged in the master’s program focusing on clinical biochemistry. Digging deeper, Desai completed her doctoral degree at the University of South Florida, where she discovered novel signaling mechanisms that induce carcinogenesis and tested the effects of preclinical chemotherapeutic agents.  Desai is the first in her family to get an advanced degree and the first to become a scientist. She currently works in a translational research environment at Duke, focusing on clinical patient samples to identify novel biomarkers and develop diagnostics tools for prevention of breast cancer. During leisure time, Desai loves experimenting with her culinary skills and inventing new recipes, enjoys travelling, volunteering and networking.

Inderpreet “Inder” Jalli (Biology)

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Jalli is a sixth-year doctoral student in the biology program. He completed his undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and psychology at the University of Houston and spent two years in a gastroenterology lab at the Baylor College of Medicine. Jalli is interested in math modeling of biological systems, mainly in E. coli. His project focuses on the response of E. coli to antibiotics such as trimethoprim, and the recovery dynamics of E. coli to various stressors. When not in the lab, Jalli takes pictures of anything interesting, and cooks.        

Curtis Lee (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

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Lee is a third-year PhD student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering program. His research focuses on the computational fluid dynamics and the development of wave energy conversion devices, which utilize ocean wave energy to create electricity for homes and businesses. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Lee received a BS in mathematics and a BA in physics from Texas Lutheran University with a minor in computer science. He is currently supported by a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship. In his leisure time, he enjoys reading, following politics and business news, running, racquetball, and spending time with friends and family.

Yilin Liu (Medical Physics)

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Liu is pursuing a PhD in the Medical Physics Graduate Program. Originally from China, she graduated with a BS in physics engineering from Tsinghua University. After that she realized interdisciplinary research is very attractive, especially applying physics to medical research. Her current work is intertwined with four-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging reconstruction for respiratory management of radiation therapy, especially as it applies to abdominal cancers. She mainly focuses on re-sorting data in both imaging domain and k-space domain. In her spare time, Liu enjoys dancing (modern dance, jazz, and Chinese traditional dance are her favorites), swimming, and playing cards with friends.              

Andrea Pappas (Neurobiology)

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Pappas is a sixth-year PhD student in the Graduate Program in Neurobiology. She is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, and received her BA from the University of Utah. Pappas’s work focuses on autism spectrum disorders. She has created a mouse model for autism that will lead to the understanding of the genetics of this disorder and to the discovery of new treatment options. Pappas is a fierce competitor on the basketball court and during any dance-off.

Giuseppe Prigiotti (Romance Studies)

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Prigiotti is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Romance Studies. He has an extended academic background, including an MA in human resources education at Roma Tre University in Rome, Italy, and a BA in history and philosophy at the University of Catania in Italy. After some years teaching high school in Italy, he decided to cross the ocean to open up new horizons in his life. His research interests include modern Italian literature, culture and religion, interfaith relations, and online education. His dissertation, provisionally titled “Secularism, Judaism and Catholicism in Italy (1870–1914),” aims to examine unexplored connections between Jewish and Catholic intellectuals and communities, challenged by the fascination and risk of secularity, integration, and internal plurality. He likes to watch art-house movies with friends and traveling the world.       

Jenni Rinker (Civil and Environmental Engineering) 

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Jenni is a third-year PhD student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering program who is investigating stochastic wind characteristics and how to implement them in simulation. She grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and received her BS in engineering from  Harvey Mudd College in 2011. Rinker is an NSF Fellow, a James B. Duke Fellow, and a Graduate Energy Fellow. She hopes to pursue a career in wind energy, either in industry or academia. Her extracurricular activities include the PhD Plus Committee (co-chair), the Engineering Graduate Student Council (secretary), the Graduate and Professional Student Council (CEE representative), and the Basketball Committee. In her spare time, Rinker likes being outdoors, mountain unicycling, ultimate frisbee, rock climbing, and watching movies.

Emily Roberts (Biomedical Engineering)

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Roberts is a sixth-year PhD candidate in biomedical engineering studying drug delivery. She graduated from Harvey Mudd College with a BS in physics in 2007 and worked at the National Institutes of Health as a postbaccalaureate fellow in biophysics before starting at Duke in 2008. Roberts’s research studies using a microfluidic platform to generate well-controlled polymer microparticles loaded with hydrophilic drugs and translating those particles into a clinical setting. After grad school, she will pursue an alternative career that enables her to write and think critically about a broad array of scientific fields. In her spare time, Roberts writes a personal-finance blog, plays tennis, enjoys cooking, and cheers on Duke’s basketball team.                 

Jordan Schermerhorn (Global Health)

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Jordan is a master’s student at the Duke Global Health Institute, where she explores the relationship between health access and regional stability in the Middle East and North Africa. Her current research involves tracking immunization delays during times of conflict, implementing culturally sensitive health technologies, and examining the political influence of health resources provided by extremist groups. Prior to enrolling at Duke, Jordan worked in technology and innovation at a philanthropic foundation, blogged on development issues for the New York Times, and designed a low-cost apnea monitor for premature infants. Her personal interests include careening across the southwestern states, obsessively tracking demographic trends in the U.S. electorate, and running up mountains very slowly.

Christine Shaner (Graduate Liberal Studies)

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Shaner is completing her master’s in liberal studies and is in the application process to continue her graduate studies at Duke. Her research interests center on questions of developing country governance, particularly issues of legislative representation and accountability. Originally from King George, Virginia, Shaner completed her BA in international studies from The Johns Hopkins University in 2010. She has a diverse range of professional experience, from teaching in France to managing a small business, to working as door-to-door canvasser for a public interest group, to training horses and people as an equestrian professional. Entering her 19th year of formal education, she still considers any time spent learning in school a great pleasure.          

Kara Shumansky (Molecular Genetics and Microbiology)

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Shumansky was born and raised in the New York tri-state area. She received her BS in biology from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. During her time there, she spent a semester in East Africa doing biological fieldwork and social outreach. After spending the summer working at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, where she discovered the oldest known strain of norovirus, Shumansky moved to North Carolina to pursue her PhD in molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Duke Translational Research Institute. The focus of her research serves to develop safe and effective antiviral agents, as well as engineer safer and more effective autoimmune therapies. Her current work is pursued in a highly collaborative environment with members of the Duke community, as well as those at other institutes within the Research Triangle. In addition to her scientific pursuits, Shumansky remains active in the community and serves as a mentor to middle school students with a budding interest in science. She also trains new PhD students and serves as a teaching assistant for the annual ethics retreat. Her experience in Africa has inspired her to continue her world travels and outreach. Recently, she embarked on an expedition to help save the endangered sea turtles in Costa Rica.

Sarah Taves, PhD (Anesthesiology)

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Taves grew up in the Midwest, where she completed her undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences at Marquette University. She moved south of the Mason-Dixon line and away from the snow to complete her PhD in neuroscience at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is now a second-year postdoctoral scholar at Duke University in the Department of Anesthesiology. Her research is focused on understanding the neuroinflammatory components of human disease. In particular, she studies of the induction and resolution of chronic pain and sensory plasticity through the use of molecular techniques, transgenic mouse models, and behavioral testing. She is most interested working with clinicians to identify neuroinflammatory components of nervous system disorders and designing concrete basic science experiments in order to test these signaling pathways. Outside of work she enjoys music, riding horses and mostly just spending time with her two children and husband.        

Valerie Tornini (Cell Biology)

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Tornini is currently a fourth-year student in the Department of Cell Biology and the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program. Her research in Ken Poss’s lab focuses on how zebrafish naturally regenerate their fins and how this knowledge can potentiate future bone and limb regenerative treatments in humans. She was raised in New York and, after 18 years there, decided to move to North Carolina for college. She obtained her BS in biology and religion from Duke University in 2010. Her interests lie in scientific research, science policy, and outreach. Beyond her academic pursuits, she spends much of her time playing volleyball, holding music nights with friends, salsa dancing, and jogging with my dog.

Aaron Towers (Genetics and Genomics)

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Towers is pursuing a PhD from the Duke Program in Genetics and Genomics. His research focus is on the role epigenetics plays in learning and memory formation. He hopes his research will contribute to the understanding of learning and memory disorders. He is also the creator of GradConvos, a community of Duke graduate and professional students who foster a deeper sense of connection through honest conversation about the graduate school experience. Originally from California, he has lived in Utah, Virginia, North Carolina, and Brazil. He loves football, baseball, yoga, meditation, and great conversation. He is a firm believer in the power of vulnerability.         

Varad Vernekar, PhD (Biomedical Engineering)

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An interdisciplinary and diverse problem solver, communicator, and team-player with hypothesis-driven thinking and entrepreneurial qualifications, Vernekar was born and raised in India. He earned his bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the University of Pune in India, his master’s in bioengineering from Clemson University in South Carolina, and his doctorate in bioengineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. He also worked on a biotechnology startup for about two years before joining Duke University as a postdoc in biomedical engineering. With research interests in the application of chemistry and engineering principles to solve biomedical and biotechnological problems, Vernekar is currently working on problems as diverse as figuring out how immune cells migrate and devising material-based strategies to promote blood vessel formation. In his spare time, Vernekar likes to strength train, hike, read books, watch movies, and paint.

Xiaoting “Tina” Wang, PhD (Neurobiology)

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Wang is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Neurobiology Department. She grew up in Nanjing, China, where she also attended college and graduate school. She obtained a BS in biology and an MS in botany. She moved to the Chicago Medical School at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in 2007 and earned a PhD in neuroscience. She uses animal models and molecular techniques to answer the fundamental question “How does brain react to addictive drugs?” She is fascinated by the complexity and the beauty of the brain and enjoys every minute of studying its function. In her spare time, Wang is a book and movie lover and enjoys traveling.       

Savannah Windham (Master of Arts in Teaching)

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Windham is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Teaching program with an emphasis in secondary English education. After completing her bachelor’s in English from the University of Kansas in 2012, she spent a year abroad working as an English conversation assistant in Cantabria, Spain. She currently works as an intern in Durham Public Schools teaching world and British literature. In her free time, Windham enjoys reading, traveling, learning Spanish, and most especially drinking coffee.