Benjamin Z. Houlton, PhD
Ronald P. Lynch Dean
Principal Investigator, University of California
Benjamin Z. Houlton is the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Cornell University professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as Global Development. Houlton began his term on October 1, 2020, as the 12th Cornell CALS dean.
As a premier institution of scientific learning and discovery, Cornell CALS is a world leader in tackling the complex challenges of our time with a culture of interdisciplinary understanding and collaboration. It is home to Cornell University’s second largest total college population, with 3,760 undergraduate students, 1,080 affiliated graduate students, 360 faculty and 1,270 staff. The college offers 23 majors and more than 40 minors, managed by 16 departments and two schools. In fiscal year 2019, CALS led Cornell’s Ithaca campus with a total of $254 million in research expenditures.
Ben has published more than 130 works including peer-reviewed scientific articles, book chapters and published abstracts as tracked by Google Scholar. An accomplished international scientist, his research interests include global ecosystem processes, climate change solutions, and agricultural sustainability. Ben’s work has been published in leading scientific journals such as Nature, Science, Nature Climate Change, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and has been covered by news media including the New York Times, Scientific American, NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, Discovery News, MSNBC/Today and the BBC. As part of his mission to connect scientific discovery with the public, he is also a frequent guest on regional and national news programs.
As founding co-chair of the California Collaborative for Climate Change solutions, Ben works with researchers from key research institutions to accelerate the translation of research findings into practical climate solutions. He is a PI with the University of California Office of the President and an affiliate faculty member at their UC Davis campus. Ben is lead PI of the Working Lands Innovation Center, where he directs approximately 100 acres of farmland carbon sequestration projects to improve crop yields and create new financial markets for farmers and ranchers. He is also Editor of Global Biogeochemical Cycles published by the American Geophysical Union, the world's largest society promoting geophysical endeavors of Earth and space scientists. He served as a scientific advisor to a Rockefeller Foundation and World Wildlife Fund project on sustainable agriculture, human nutrition and climate solutions. As dean, he will also share responsibility for leadership of Cornell Cooperative Extension throughout New York state with the College of Human Ecology.
Prior to joining Cornell, Ben served on the UC Davis faculty since 2007, teaching global environmental studies with a co-appointment in the UC Agriculture Experiment Station. He also led their John Muir Institute of the Environment, bringing together more than 300 faculty affiliates, 350 postdoctoral researchers, staff and students from across the university with the goal of devising innovative solutions to the environmental sustainability challenges of the 21st century. As part of the institute, he led the new OneClimate “Big Idea,” an inter-disciplinary, team-based approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help people, ecosystems and agriculture adapt to an uncertain climate future. Ben served as faculty director of two diversity, equity and inclusion programs at UC Davis — EnvironMentors and SEEDS — and supported the launch of GOALS (Girls’ Outdoor Adventure in Leadership and Science) at the Muir Institute. He also works with California tribes to empower the application of indigenous knowledge in agricultural and environmental sustainability.
Ben received his B.S. from the University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point in Water Chemistry, an M.S. from Syracuse University in Environmental Engineering Science, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He spent two years working as a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford before joining the UC Davis. Ben is the recipient of the Gene E. Likens Award from the Ecological Society of America, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Young Investigator Award, and the NSF-CAREER award.
Ben grew up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, solidifying his dedication to the environment at a young age while camping with his family throughout the Midwest and spending time on his great aunt and uncle’s dairy farm. His family legacy in agriculture spans the dairy, poultry and grain commodities, and still includes one remaining family dairy farm in Kansas. He can often be found fly fishing, running, traveling internationally and coaching his kids’ soccer teams in his spare time.
Maya Almaraz is a terrestrial biogeochemist whose research focuses on the nitrogen cycle and its interaction with soil processes, pollution, and global food systems. Nitrogen fertilizer technology feeds about half the world’s human population and is widely considered a key limiting resource in ecological systems; however, excess nitrogen in the environment harms the economy, hurts people, and imposes serious climate change risks. Maya’s research focuses on unraveling such multi-dimensional complexities of the world’s nitrogen challenges. Maya is currently a Program Manager for the Working Lands Innovation Center at UC Davis where she is looking to scale carbon capture and negative emission technologies in agriculture. She was previously a Postdoctoral Fellow with World Wildlife Fund and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at UC Santa Barbara where she worked on a project examining the environmental impacts of our food system. Before that, Maya was a National Science Postdoctoral Fellow in Biology at UC Davis, where she studied the feedbacks between agriculture, air quality, and climate change. Maya received her doctorate from Brown University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, as well as undergraduate degrees from UC Berkeley in Public Health (BA) and Conservation and Resource Studies (BS).
Erin Manaigo grew up in Atlanta, GA and earned her B.S. in biology from Howard University in Washington DC in 2016. She spent time examining the physiology of symbiotic nitrogen fixation and landscape-scale controls on forest carbon storage during her undergraduate. Currently, Erin is interested in advancing the use of remote sensing technologies to quantify the storage of carbon by terrestrial ecosystems.
Iris spent her childhood in small-town Missouri before heading west to sunny Southern California. She graduated from Scripps College in 2017, receiving her B.A. in geology through the Pomona College Geology Department. Her diverse research background ranges from work on the geochemistry of the Burgess Shale to examination of trace metal cycling in agricultural systems. Iris looks forward to further exploring complex biogeochemical questions at UCD, leveraging her background in geoscience to investigate rock nitrogen weathering in terrestrial ecosystems. She will use this research to advance understanding of ecosystem functioning and terrestrial carbon storage on a global scale.
Nina grew up in central Pennsylvania, exploring farm fields and streams. She fell in love with soils while completing her undergraduate degree in Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University. Looking for a new experience, she switched coasts for graduate school - studying soils and geomorphology under Oliver Chadwick. She completed her MA at UC Santa Barbara in 2015 studying nutrient sources in incipient volcanic soils with Oliver Chadwick. She loved California so much, she stayed at UCSB for her PhD (June 2019) with Oliver Chadwick and Bodo Bookhagen researching rock weathering, soil erosion, and soil nutrient status in the Western Transverse Range, CA. She joined the Houlton lab as a postdoc working on CO2 sequestration via soil amendments such as crushed silicate rocks in agricultural fields in association with the Working Lands Innovation Center.
Autumn received her B.S in Environmental Science in 2017. Her undergraduate research focused more on the transportation and fate of contaminants in the environment while now she becomes more interested in using data analysis and modeling to study global food sustainability, yield gap, and climate impact factors. She is excited to be in sunny California and loves the natural scenery around her.
Emily Geoghegan grew up near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned her B.A. in Biology from Bryn Mawr College in 2017. During her time at Bryn Mawr College, she researched the effects of climate change factors on wetland productivity and GHG emissions. During her junior year, she spent a semester at the Marine Biological Laboratory as a participant in the Semester in Environmental Science program. She continued her scientific education at Villanova University, where she received an M.S. in Biology in 2019. At Villanova, she studied the effects of mangrove invasion on carbon cycling along the northeastern coast of Florida as a part of the WETFEET project. After graduating from Villanova, she finally made her way out to the West Coast in order to pursue her Ph.D. in Soils & Biogeochemistry at UC Davis. At UCD, she is interested in studying how rock amendments influence nitrogen use efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions within croplands.
NYS Parks and Rec
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
Postdoc, The Nature Conservancy
Graduate Student, University of Minnesota
Research Scientist, Northern Arizona University
Dean and Professor
Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese
Academy of Sciences
Tiffany van Huysen
Lawrence Berkeley Labs
Sara Enders Goulden
Krestrel Consulting Inc.
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