Benjamin Z. Houlton, PhD
Benjamin Houlton studied chemistry (B.S.) and environmental engineering (M.S.) before receiving his doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University in 2005. He then spent two years working as a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Global Ecology, where he forged collaborations with CSIRO's Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research in Australia. Currently, a Professor of Global Environmental Studies at the University of California – Davis, Ben holds the distinction of Chancellor's Fellow and is Director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment. Ben’s research interests include ecosystem processes, climate change solutions, and changes to global carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus cycles for enhanced energy and food production. At the John Muir Institute of the Environment, Ben directs >150 staff and catalyzes research discovery across more than 300 faculty-experts from all of UC Davis’s Colleges and Professional schools with the goal of devising innovative solutions to the environmental sustainability challenges of the 21st century. Most recently, Ben has been spear-heading the new OneClimate 'Big Idea,' an inter-disciplinary, team-based approach to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and help people and ecosystems adapt to an uncertain climate future. Ben is Co-Chair of the California Collaborative for Climate Change Solutions and member of the UC Global Climate Leadership Council. Ben's research has appeared in leading scientific journals such as Science, Nature, Nature Climate Change, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and been covered by news media including Newsweek, New York Times, Scientific American, The Christian Science Monitor, Discovery News, MSNBC/Today, Nature, Science, and BBC's "The Naked Scientists." He has appeared as a guest on NPR's "Morning Edition", MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes" and local TV and radio shows. Ben is recipiant of numerous awards, including the Gene E. Likens Award from the Ecological Society of America, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Young Investigator Award, and the NSF-CAREER award.
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.
Yanqiu grew up in China and received her B.S in Environmental Science from Jilin University 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 love 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.
Katy Dynarski is originally from central New Jersey and could not be happier to be exploring beautiful California. She received her B.S. in biochemistry from Villanova University in 2013. Her interest in nitrogen cycling was sparked during her undergraduate work in Dr. Melanie Vile’s ecosystem ecology lab, where she got to spend her summers living and working in Alberta’s boreal region. Her past research includes determining the role of nutrient limitation in controlling nitrogen fixation in boreal peatlands. She is excited to continue her in nitrogen fixation in new ecosystems, and hopes to study links between this process and other chemical processes in both the N and C cycles.
Hailing from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, Rebecca Walker received her B.S. in Environmental Sciences and Anthropology from the University of Virginia in 2015. Her past research includes an analysis of soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics in old growth forests of the Mid-Atlantic and an interdisciplinary study of how perceptions of nature shape plant community composition and biogeochemical cycling in Israel. At UCD, she is excited to explore the use of stable isotopes to study denitrification fluxes and ultimately hopes to incorporate interdisciplinary methodologies into the study of ecosystem processes.
Pawlok Dass, having spent a year and a half in Massachusetts, is glad to be in sunny California, away from the notorious New England winter. He hopes to exploit his background in biology and climate change to improve the understanding of the below ground nitrogen cycle. Originally from Kolkata, India he received his BSc in biology from Presidency College and MSc in environment management from the Forest Research Institute University in northern India. PhD took him to Germany as an IMPRS-ESM scholar to MPI-Met and PIK where he studied the feasibility of bioenergy as a potential mitigation measure. Postdoctoral research at UMass-Amherst, found him developing an understanding of climatic controls of the high latitude vegetation. At UCD, he hopes to develop and understanding of how, on a global scale, climate change and organisms (primarily plants) could change and regulate the availability of below ground nitrogen and phosphorous.
Erin Oliver grew up near Mobile, Alabama and received her B.S. in Microbiology at Louisiana State University in 2015. As an undergrad she studied microbial life in frozen environments including glaciers and Antarctic ice cores. Her passion for environmental microbiology led her to pursue a graduate research in soil microbiology to understand the role of microbes in the carbon cycle and how it may be altered by climate change. She is a part of the Joint Doctoral Program in Ecology between San Diego State University and UC-Davis. She is currently working to understand what environmental or genetic factors determine microbial carbon use efficiency in soil.
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