New Faculty 2020-2021
We welcome everyone to an exciting academic year. Below you will meet an extraordinary cohort of new faculty joining Arts, Sciences & Engineering. Their accomplishments in research and teaching are already truly impressive, and they join a vibrant University of Rochester community of dedicated scholars and teachers who are transforming the lives of students and expanding their research fields.
Assistant Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Machiel Blok joins the faculty as an assistant professor, after serving as a postdoctoral research associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California in the Department of Energy’s Advanced Quantum Testbed research facility.
Blok’s research focuses on small particles that obey the laws of quantum mechanics. He conducts experiments that verify the strange behavior of quantum-entangled particles and works on developing the building blocks for quantum technology by studying and controlling properties of electrical circuits on chips. He is developing new techniques to turn the circuits into powerful quantum computers and simulators that may eventually solve problems that classical computers could never solve. In addition to applications in quantum information science, Blok’s research helps answer questions in high-energy-density physics and condensed matter science.
Blok’s research has been funded by organizations that include the United States Department of Energy and the Army Research Office. He has published research papers in high-profile, peer-reviewed journals, including Nature, Nature Physics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Science.
- Undergraduate degree: BSc, applied physics, Delft University of Technology
- Graduate degrees: MSc, applied physics, Delft University of Technology; PhD, applied physics, QuTech/Delft University of Technology
- Most recent appointment: postdoctoral research associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
C. Rose Kennedy
Assistant Professor, Chemistry
Rose Kennedy joins the faculty from Princeton University, where she was a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral research fellow. She earned her undergraduate degree at Rochester before earning a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to study at Harvard University, where she earned her PhD in chemistry.
Kennedy’s research focuses on synthetic chemistry and developing unconventional, tunable, and sustainable strategies for producing innovative building blocks and materials. Kennedy and the members of her lab use experimental and computational techniques in physical organic and inorganic chemistry to invent methods for converting feedstocks—biological material including petrochemicals, biomass, and anthropogenic materials like plastic waste—into more useful materials. While providing fundamental insights into chemical reactivity, the research can be applied to developing new pharmaceuticals, soft materials, and other consumer products.
Kennedy holds multiple patents and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, and Green Chemistry.
In addition to her research, conducted with her team of postdoctoral research associates and graduate and undergraduate students, Kennedy teaches First-Year Organic Chemistry II and Advanced Organic Chemistry.
- Undergraduate degree: BS, chemistry, University of Rochester
- Graduate degree: PhD, chemistry, Harvard University
- Most recent appointment: National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Princeton University
Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering
Melodie Lawton joins the faculty as an assistant professor, instructional track, with industrial experience that complements her academic credentials.
After getting her BS in chemical engineering at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, Lawton worked for Bausch & Lomb in Rochester as a process engineer. During seven years with the vision care company she gained a wide range of experiences in mentoring and training lab personnel, supervising daily process engineering lab activities, troubleshooting inconsistencies between manufacturing sites, and worked on the development of new ophthalmic medical devices.
Lawton’s professional experience as an engineer provides her with a broad perspective in helping students with coursework and professional development activities as well as instilling concepts that will be useful over the course of their careers.
As an instructional faculty member in charge of the department’s undergraduate labs, she teaches Chemical Engineering Practice to juniors, Chemical Process Analysis, and senior undergraduate labs.
For her PhD at Syracuse University, Lawton worked on development of smart shape memory polymer composites.
- Undergraduate degree: BSc, chemical engineering, Polytechnic University (Brooklyn, New York)
- Graduate degrees: MSc, materials science and engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology; PhD, bioengineering, Syracuse University (2018)
- Most recent appointment: visiting assistant professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, and faculty associate, Department of Chemical Engineering, Bucknell University
Assistant Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Christopher Marshall joins the faculty after serving as a Chamberlain Fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Previous to that, he was a fellow at Fermilab in Illinois. He first came to the University of Rochester in 2010 as a graduate student.
Marshall’s research focus is fundamental particle physics; in particular, neutrinos, which are subatomic particles with a mass close to zero. Marshall is currently part of an international team designing and developing the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will detect the oscillations of neutrinos and antineutrinos as they travel 1,300 kilometers through the earth from Fermilab in Illinois to an underground laboratory in South Dakota. The goal of the project is to learn whether neutrinos change types in ways that offer clues as to why the universe is made of matter instead of antimatter. Marshall also studies the ways in which neutrinos interact with ordinary matter, and he has been involved in other national neutrino research collaborations.
Marshall’s work has appeared in Physical Review Letters and other peer-reviewed journals.
At Rochester, Marshall will teach undergraduate physics courses, in addition to conducting research.
- Undergraduate degree: BA, physics, Carleton College
- Graduate degrees: MA, physics, University of Rochester; PhD, physics, University of Rochester
- Most recent appointment: Chamberlain Fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Assistant Professor, Department of Religion and Classics
Conā Marshall joins the faculty as assistant professor in the Department of Religion and Classics, specializing in American religions. Prior to this, they held a one-year postdoctoral fellowship with the Frederick Douglass Institute. Marshall came to Rochester after serving as a director and assistant professor of Africana Studies at Lebanon Valley College.
Their teaching and research focuses on womanism, Black feminism, the Black church (as an institution), and African American public religious rhetoric. In Marshall’s most recent publication, they explore the relationships between hip hop and religiosity, titled “I’m So Self-Conscious: Kanye West’s Rhetorical Wrestling with Theodicy and Nihilism,” which was published in the Journal of Hip Hop Studies’ special issue I Gotta Testify: Kanye West, Hip Hop, and the Church.
Marshall is also the author of the forthcoming book, Ain’t I a Preacher?: Black Women’s Homiletic Rhetoric (2021).
- Undergraduate degree: BA, interdisciplinary humanities, Michigan State University study abroad, Universite Cheikh Anta Diop–Dakar, Senegal
- Graduate degrees: MTS, theology and ethics, Vanderbilt Divinity School PhD, African American and African Studies, Michigan State University
- Most recent appointment: director and assistant professor of Africana Studies at Lebanon Valley College.
Assistant Professor, Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Elise Piazza joins Rochester’s faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University.
Using behavioral and neuroimaging approaches, Piazza studies how humans communicate, especially through sounds such as speech and music. From the perspective of listening, Piazza investigates how the auditory system uses a mechanism called statistical summary to compress complex sensory information into more concise representations, allowing humans to efficiently process sound. From the perspective of production, she investigates how speakers adapt their voices to make it easier for different audiences to understand them. To link both sides of communication, her recent research has focused on how our brains and behaviors become coupled to other people’s when we listen to and learn from each other.
Piazza’s research has been funded by organizations including the National Institutes of Health and the Grammy Museum. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including Current Biology and Psychological Science and has been covered by national media outlets, including PBS, Science Friday, and the Washington Post.
In addition to her research, Piazza will be teaching the course Music and the Mind in spring 2021.
- Undergraduate degree: BA, psychology and music, Williams College
- Graduate degrees: PhD, vision science, University of California, Berkeley
- Most recent appointment: C.V. Starr Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University
Associate Professor, Physics and Astronomy and Senior Scientist, Laboratory for Laser Energetics
Petros Tzeferacos joins the faculty from the University of Chicago, where he was a research associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics. He has additionally held a visiting scientist position with the University of Oxford since 2013 and with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory since 2015.
Tzeferacos’s research combines numerical modeling and laser-driven laboratory experiments to study high-energy-density science, plasma physics, and fundamental astrophysical processes. His research provides important insights on fusion energy, how magnetic fields are generated, and the nature of magnetized plasmas. Since 2013, Tzeferacos has led the development of FLASH, a publicly available multiphysics computing code widely used by astrophysicists and laboratory plasma researchers. In 2018, while at the University of Chicago, he became the director of the Flash Center for Computational Science and has since moved the Center to the University of Rochester.
Tzeferacos was elected vice chair of the High Energy Density Science Association in 2017, member of the Omega Laser User Group Executive Committee in 2018, and vice chair of the National Ignition Facility User Group Executive Committee in 2019. His research has been funded by organizations that include the United States Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration, the US DOE Office of Science, and the National Science Foundation. In 2019, the American Physical Society awarded him the John Dawson Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research. His work has been published in peer-reviewed publications, including Nature Physics,Nature Communications, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In addition to conducting research, Tzeferacos will teach courses in numerical methods for computational physics, astrophysics, and high-energy-density science, as well as core-curriculum courses.
- Undergraduate degree: BSc and MSc equivalent, physics and astrophysics, University of Athens, Greece
- Graduate degree: PhD, physics and astrophysics, University of Turin, Italy
- Most recent appointment: research associate professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago
Associate Professor, Biology
Albert Uy joins the faculty from the University of Miami, where he served as an associate professor and the Pat and Jeff Aresty Chair in Tropical Ecology, studying the origins and maintenance of biological diversity, with a focus on tropical birds. Previously he was an associate professor of biology at Syracuse University.
Uy’s research combines field observations and experiments using genome sequencing to explore how new species arise in nature. Uy and the members of his lab seek to understand the origin of species by capturing natural populations on the verge of becoming new species. Most recently, Uy has leveraged his long-term research program to establish conservation initiatives in the South Pacific, where climate change and unregulated logging are threatening fragile island ecosystems.
His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, Conservation International, and other organizations. He and his collaborators have published more than 40 journal articles in peer-reviewed publications, and his long-term work in the Solomon Islands is a subject of a full-length Smithsonian channel documentary called Islands of Creation.
Uy will be teaching an upper-level ecology course in spring 2021 and an immersive, summer field course in the Solomon Islands, where undergraduate students will gain hands-on research experience in field biology and conservation.
- Undergraduate degree: AB, integrative biology, University of California at Berkeley
- Graduate degree: PhD, biology, University of Maryland at College Park
- Most recent appointment: associate professor and the Pat and Jeff Aresty Chair in Tropical Ecology at the University of Miami
Floria Mora-Kepfer Uy
Assistant Professor of Instruction and Research Assistant Professor, Biology
Floria Mora-Kepfer Uy joins the faculty from Cornell University, where she was a research associate in Cornell’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. She was previously a research assistant professor at the University of Miami.
Uy’s work focuses on understanding the evolution of social behavior, specifically, the neural mechanisms underlying cooperation. She studies social wasps, which share many aspects of their group structure with human societies, and ants in the tropics and, more recently, in upstate New York. Combining field and behavioral studies with neuroethological and genomic tools, she explores how social insects maintain their cooperative lifestyle, despite many challenges, including parasites that attack their colonies and manipulate their behavior.
Uy’s research has been funded by organizations that include the National Science Foundation and the National Academies Keck Foundation. Her work has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology, the Journal of Insect Behavior, and other peer-reviewed journals. Her work in the Solomon Islands is featured in the full-length Smithsonian Channel documentary Islands of Creation. She also participates in outreach talks and TV science segments for the Spanish-speaking community in the United States.
In addition to her research, Uy teaches Perspectives in Biology II and serves as the director for ROC Galapagos, a new study abroad program in the Department of Biology, where undergraduate students spend a semester studying ecology and evolution in mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. She is also running a field course in the Solomon Islands.
- Undergraduate degree: BA, biology, University of Costa Rica
- Graduate degrees: MS, entomology, University of Costa Rica; PhD, biology, University of Miami
- Most recent appointment: research associate at Cornell University
Assistant Professor, Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Ariel Zylberberg joins the faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Previously, he was a research specialist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and an adjunct associate research scientist at the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University.
Zylberberg’s research focuses on how people make decisions that require planning and reasoning. Complex decisions can often be broken down into a series of simpler operations, and Zylberberg’s research identifies and characterizes the elementary operations. Zylberberg and the members of his lab design and study behavioral experiments in which people make decisions involving different levels of complexity. They develop mathematical theories and models to explain behavioral observables—such as errors, reaction times, and confidence judgments—and physiological responses, such as pupil size. Zylberberg also collaborates with experimental laboratories to identify the neural mechanisms underlying decision making in nonhuman animals. His long-term goal is to develop a theory that explains how people build internal models of the environment and of themselves and how these models are used in decision making.
Zylberberg’s research has been published in Science, Nature Human Behavior, Neuron, and otherpeer-reviewed journals.
In addition to conducting research, Zylberberg will teach graduate and undergraduate courses on decision making and neuroeconomics.
- Undergraduate degree: BSc and MSc equivalent, industrial engineering, Universidad de Buenos Aires
- Graduate degree: PhD, engineering, Universidad de Buenos Aires
- Most recent appointment: research specialist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and adjunct associate research scientist at Columbia University