Organizers and leaders | Fellows | Alumni

Organizers and leaders:


Peggy G. Lemaux

My research interests focus on understanding and improving crop plants, particularly cereals. My position at UC Berkeley involves not only performing research but also includes interacting with the public. Those outreach efforts aim to enlighten those who would listen about food, agriculture and the role genetics have and will play in those areas

     CLEAR is allowing me to realize a dream I have had for many years to interest students in communicating with the public on issues relating to what we scientists do and why – and challenging science denial. I hope to pass on what I have learned from doing this to the next generation of scientists.


nicolas_alexa.jpgAlexa Nicolas

I studied Molecular Biology at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating, I committed myself to the public facing side of science trying careers in science museums, education, publishing, and writing for a non-profit. While my commitment to communicating science is unwavering, I realized I wanted to be asking questions and conducting research toward a greater understanding of our environment. 

     As a graduate student in microbiology, I sample soil to understand what microorganisms live in the most fundamental component of our food system and how they coexist. With CLEAR, I can compliment my scientific self by extending my work and intimate understandings of the environment to folks of all different backgrounds and relationships to the planet.  


Alexander Jaffe

I am a second-year graduate student in PMB interested in environmental microbiology, ecology, and metagenomics. I received my bachelor’s degree at Harvard University, where I was a research assistant in the Losos lab. Through CLEAR, I am excited to pursue my interests in science communication, sustainable agriculture, and food policy.

styer_alexAlex Styer

The true measure of agriculture shouldn’t be measured in yield, but in the health of the land and the people supported by it. I’m interested in CLEAR because solving the scientific problems of agriculture represent just half the solutions; the other half lie in thoughtful policy, industry, and consumer decisions. As scientists, we have a responsibility to not only put in the time in the lab or field, but also to help legislators, industries, and consumers make the best decisions to ensure the health of both land and people.


Alyssa Anderson

I love everything about food! I enjoy growing it, cooking it, and eating it. The best part, however, is talking about food and how technology can benefit our current agricultural practices. As a 4th year PhD student at UC Berkeley I study how corn deals with environmental stresses, like drought and heat. As the climate changes, it is essential that we understand these systems. With CLEAR I hope to engage the public on the benefits and dangers surrounding these pressing issues.

CLEARpicAndrew Brandon

If the public is to make informed decisions regarding the products and services they consume, novel insights gained through scientific research must be communicated in a meaningful way. However, in the constant struggle to make an impact among their peers and acquire funding, many scientists overlook this responsibility. My role as a plant biologist is especially important, since poor access to affordable, nutritious food is the root of much suffering worldwide.

 I joined CLEAR to learn more about communication and how I can have a positive impact as a scientist outside of the lab. I received my B.S. in molecular biology at the University of Tennessee in the lab of Dr. Barry Bruce, studying the kinetics of electron transfer in cyanobacterial Photosystem I. I am currently a 5th year Ph. D. candidate under Dr. Henrik Scheller at the Joint BioEnergy Institute studying the biosynthesis of hemicelluloses and engineering more efficient biofuel crops.

profpicBLHBrianna Haining

I earned my BS at New York University Abu Dhabi and I am currently a third year graduate student in the Plant and Microbial Biology PhD program at UC Berkeley. By participating in CLEAR, I hope to help disseminate accessible and accurate information on topics such as genetic modification and the effects of climate change on agriculture.


Cat Adams

I earned my Master’s degree at Harvard University in the lab of Anne Pringle. There, I studied wild Bolivian chili peppers, and how fungal pathogens of the peppers evolved a taste for spice. Now as a 4th year PhD student in the Bruns lab at UC Berkeley, I study the deadly poisonous Death Cap mushroom, Amanita phalloides. I am interested in how the toxins may have aided the mushroom in its global invasion.

     With CLEAR, I hope to help spread understanding of important scientific issues, and also share my love of molds and mushrooms. I have written for Slate and BBC EarthFollow me on Twitter at @ScienceIsMetal and at my blog,

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Daniel Westcott

I am currently a fourth year graduate student in the Plant and Microbial Biology PhD program at UC Berkeley. I study photosynthesis in the Niyogi lab with an emphasis on structural organization of the sites of photosynthesis.

     Science isn’t science without communication. Through CLEAR, I’ve had the chance to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds both in and outside of the agricultural sector. I’ve met California farmers and heard about their unique challenges during this record drought. I’ve hosted a roundtable with the chemistry department where we worked on strategies to demystify science. I’ve answered questions from undergraduates in an environmental ethics class, and I’ve spoken to the professional plant science community at the iFAL symposium at UC Davis. Follow me on Twitter  @d_j_westcott

DavidLittDavid Litt

I am a 4th year graduate student in chemistry. I am concerned with misconceptions about the scientific process, and I want to actively engage the public in scientific conversations. To this end, I blog for the Berkeley Science Review, and I lead a BASIS lesson for elementary school students.

     CLEAR is on the front lines of positively engaging with the public about one of the most important scientific fields–agriculture. Determining effective methods of communication is essential for building public trust in all areas of science.


Dawn Chiniquy

Along with Dr. Peggy Lemaux, I helped established The CLEAR Project at UC Berkeley to create a forum that provides young scientists with the opportunity to discuss our common challenges of communicating what we do, and find better ways to bridge the communication gap between scientists and the public who funds us.

     I earned my Bachelors degree at UC Berkeley in Integrative Biology and my PhD at UC Davis in Dr. Pamela Ronald’s lab, studying rice genes that make plants into better biofuels. My first postdoc was at UC Berkeley in Dr. Shauna Somerville’s lab, studying the intersection of plant cell wall synthesis and disease resistance. And I currently am a NIFA Postdoctoral Fellow at the Joint Genome Institute, part of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, studying the metagenomics of microbes that live in plant roots. Find me on Twitter @dawn_chiniquy

Patel_DhruvDhruv Patel

Now more than ever, we need scientists capable of bridging understanding of science with the public. As a member of CLEAR, I am developing these skills while engaging in meaningful outreach opportunities about misconceptions in agricultural research. I am particularly interested in working with individuals from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds, where financial and educational disparities can make it even more difficult to participate in the conversation. This work is critical – especially considering how issues such as food insecurity disproportionately affect these groups.

     As a second year graduate student in Kris Niyogi’s lab, I am currently researching the molecular mechanisms of photosynthesis and high light protection in algae and plants. I look forward to translating and applying my work, while conveying my science in a way that is approachable to the public.

KovakEmma Kovak

I love CLEAR because I get to have meaningful discussions with awesome people that share my interests. I am particularly passionate about spreading scientific literacy so that we can all make informed decisions about scientific issues. As a 5th year PhD student at UC Berkeley, I study how corn senses and responds to its environment through the circadian clock.

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Grady Pierroz

I am a third-year Ph.D. student studying plant biology and am currently rotating in Sarah Hake’s lab characterizing a maize mutant. I earned my undergraduate degree from Berkeley as well, working in Chelsea Specht’s lab assessing the effects of tissue culture on gene expression in banana. I am still keenly interested in tissue culture, as well as genetic engineering, biodiversity, and agroecology.

     I joined CLEAR because I want to help educate the public on GMOs and the effects of climate change on agriculture and the biosphere.

Wipf, Heidi

Heidi Wipf

I am currently a third-year graduate student in the Plant and Microbial Biology PhD program at UC Berkeley. I am passionate about the exchange of ideas, concerns, and research about agriculture and science in society, and I believe CLEAR provides an important platform to connect communities in and surrounding science. With this aim, I also volunteer with Bay Area Scientists in Schools and PlantingScience.

ISTENESIlona Istenes

Ilona is a senior at Cal and will be graduating with a B.S. in genetics and plant biology and a minor in soil and water conservation (a custom CRS minor). She hopes to work in the government, managing and remediating ecosystems.

Interested in how plants and environmental health are linked, she joined CLEAR to better understand issues in modern farming and public perception of GMO technology.

Jaenisch, Johan.jpegJohan Jaenisch

I am a 4th year graduate student working in the Wildermuth lab at UC Berkeley. I am looking at the nutrient transfer between plant hosts and their pathogens, using Arabidopsis and powdery mildew. By identifying the metabolic pathways that contribute most to the fungus’ reproductive output, I hope to identify what might aid in preventing its spread, while limiting any reduction in host fitness.

     I am interested in CLEAR because I think it is very important to maintain a dialogue with the public about agricultural research. I am always happy to talk about new developments with scientists, farmers and consumers. When I’m not in the lab, I like to hike in the Sierras and climb with my cat.

MADERA 2Mary Madera

I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2015, earning a B.S in both Nutritional Sciences: Physiology & Metabolism and Genetics & Plant Biology. I spent my senior year as an undergraduate researcher in Sheng Luan’s lab studying potassium uptake channels in Arabidopsis roots. I am currently a Laboratory Assistant in Peggy Lemaux’s lab working on the EPICON project, which is researching the means by which sorghum is able to survive drought.

     With a passion for both agricultural sciences and public nutritional health, being a member of CLEAR is providing me with the skills, knowledge and opportunities to augment my understanding of the food and agricultural systems and engage in dynamic, productive conversations with the public about science.


Michael Busche

I’m a second year graduate student in the Plant and Microbial Biology department. I earned my BS in plant genetics and biochemistry from Purdue University where I studied protein digestibility in sorghum. 

I am interested in CLEAR because I would like to become more effective at communicating science to the public, and I am extremely interested in the policies and practices that surround modern agriculture. 


Michael Gomez

Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) currently represents a serious threat to food security and subsistence agriculture for smallholder farmers in the developing world, especially in Africa. The objective of my project is to generate durable genetic resistance to potyvirus infection in cassava.  The CRISPR-Cas system has recently emerged as a revolutionary genome editing technology. I aim to translate this system into a novel class of plant therapeutics to effectively control plant disease. Precise mutagenesis of cassava genes required for viral replication is hypothesized to stop the spread of CBSD. Application of this system to combat potyvirus infections can serve as a sustainable solution to global food challenges.

Patrick Shih

Patrick Shih

I’m a postdoctoral researcher at the Joint BioEnergy Institute, working on developing plant synthetic biology tools and resources. I am participating in CLEAR, because it is important for the public to understand how certain technologies may drastically improve agriculture, sustainability, and food production. 

patrick_west_02Patrick West

I am currently a third year graduate student in the Plant and Microbial Biology PHD program at UC Berkeley. I earned my BS from the University of Minnesota where I majored in Plant Biology and studied the effects of chromatin modifications on gene expression in maize.

     I am participating in CLEAR because I feel its mission of communicating science to the public in a clear and accurate way is incredibly important.  

Chapiro, Sonia.jpegSonia Chapiro

I am a third-year Plant Biology PhD student at UC Berkeley. I earned my B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology at UC Davis. Before graduate school, I worked as a technician in Dr. Judy Callis’s lab, also at UC Davis, studying amino acid homeostasis and chloroplast development in Arabidopsis. Currently, my interests are in metabolic engineering of food and fuel crops.

     Through CLEAR, I hope to promote constructive and informed discussions about GM technology.


Sophia Ewens

I am just finishing up my first year as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology.  I joined this program because I want to solve problems related to climate change, natural resource conservation, and global energy consumption.  I am now a member of John Coates’ lab, and I am researching the energy metabolism of organisms that produce bio-fuels.  This research is exciting, and I want to be able to clearly explain my work to family, friends, businesses, and policy-makers.  But effective communication takes practice, which is why I joined CLEAR.  If I can help the public understand my research, as well as other scientist’s research, then I can help scientists’ innovative ideas become real solutions.

 Dao, Thai.jpegThai Dao

I am a third-year graduate student in the Plant & Microbial Biology Department. I’m currently rotating in Devin Coleman-Derr’s lab, studying genomics and epigenomics in sorghum. I earned my B.A. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster PA, where I worked on the genetics of seed maturation in Arabidopsis.

     While a researcher at heart, my involvement with digital art and visual design has led me to appreciate how important it is to communicate science to people outside of your field, for the sake of both the scientists, and the public. Being involved in CLEAR is preparing me to do that.

image1Tim Jeffers

I am  pursuing a PhD in Plant Biology to study the diverse mechanisms behind plant development and response to environmental stress. I did undergraduate and technician research in the Coruzzi Lab at NYU, where I studied nitrogen use efficiency and gene regulatory networks.  As a member of CLEAR, I hope to learn more about the current state of agriculture, promote scientific literacy, and foster relationships between plant scientists, farmers, and agricultural economists. 

dsc_0703Tuesday Simmons

I earned my B.S. in Microbiology and Ecology at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and I’m currently pursuing my Ph.D. in microbiology at UC Berkeley. My research is focussed on the role of the root and soil microbiomes in drought-stressed plants–specifically the microbial interactions within these communities.

I am interested in CLEAR because I want to be able to convey the excitement and importance of agricultural research to the general public. I am also concerned about the misinformation that is spread regarding different scientific topics, including GMOs, and am interested in learning effective methods of science communication.


Virginia Markham

Imagine what our world would look like if every person read the news with an open mind and a critical eye. I joined CLEAR because I want to empower people to consider the scientific reports they see in the media with skepticism and curiosity. Every single one of us has valid insights and experiences to bring to the table when it comes to interpretation of scientific data. The more people we have at the table, the better our chances of finding honest answers to society’s biggest questions.

I am a second-year plant biology grad student interested in genomics and evolution. Born and raised in Pasadena, CA, I have been happily settled in the East Bay since arriving here as an undergraduate six years ago. If you happen to catch me in my leisure time, you will probably find me jogging, playing a board/card game, or reading a fantasy novel.


AliciaAlicia Taylor

I am currently a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology and study phytoremediation of hydrocarbon and heavy metal impacted soil and water. I received her BS in biology from the University of North Texas, an MS in microbiology from Texas State University and her PhD in environmental toxicology from UC Riverside. I am passionate about science education and science outreach and volunteer with the California Academy of Science, Bay Area Scientists in Schools, and the East Bay Science Cafe in my free time.

Amrita_Hazra_CLEAR.jpg Amrita Hazra

I grew up in Pune, India in a home where dinner table discussions were often about chemistry and biology. So I decided to pursue chemical biology, and then microbiology for my graduate and postdoctoral research. My work in vitamin biosynthesis drew me closer to the nutritional, economic and political influences on food and agriculture. I started The Millet Project ( in California in 2015 to explore millets to diversify agriculture and our diets.

     I am also greatly interested in science education and outreach, and democratizing science for all social and economic backgrounds. I am very excited about being a part of CLEAR as it is a great platform for scientists to communicate with our community, and to enhance the public understanding of science. I just started as an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune. I plan to continue participating in CLEAR by cultivating exchanges between science outreach at IISER and the CLEAR Project at Berkeley.

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Franklin Wu

I’m currently a 3rd year undergraduate at UC Berkeley studying Public Health, Economics, and Biochemistry. I am a research assistant in Peggy Lemaux’s lab, working with Joshua Wong to develop a new oat product. 

    I’m interested in CLEAR because I want to educate the public about GMOs and biotechnology. Communicating science to the public is necessary to improve public health, while also saving a lot of money. 

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Gabriel Kahn

I graduated from UC Berkeley with a Dual B.S./B.A. Degree in Environmental Economics and Applied Mathematics. I recently coauthored an article in the Annual Review of Resource Economics on the economics of alternative food paradigms.

     CLEAR efforts are particularly interesting to me in exploring the hunt for sustainable, efficient, and robust food systems, as well as investigating food policy issues.

Shybut_GENEs photoMikel Shybut

In the era of online information, finding honest answers to difficult questions is not easy.  While some questions yield immediate, unquestionable results (“Who won the NCAA football championships in 1995?”), other questions (Are GMOs bad for you?”) may present an array of claims and answers depending on the source.  As graduate students in biology, we are trained to be skeptical of broad conclusions, drawing on our critical analysis of data and methodology to determine the truth. I joined CLEAR to work together with my peers to combine open minds with thorough research in an honest approach to finding the answers to some of the big questions affecting agriculture today and to share our findings with the public.  We speak not in absolutes or for any one side, but we speak for evidence and ideas.

     I earned my bachelors at Grinnell College in biological chemistry, studying photosynthetic regulatory mechanisms of heat tolerance in Arabidopsis in the lab of Dr. Benjamin DeRidder.  As a plant biology PhD student in the lab of Dr. Brian Staskawicz at UC Berkeley, I studied the genomic hijacking of cassava by transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs) of the cassava bacterial blight pathogen Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. manihotis. Follow me on Twitter @mshybut

Susan 1.jpgSusan Hepp

I am a PhD student working on baculoviruses in Matthew Welch’s lab. My project explores how baculoviruses reorganize the host cytoskeleton in order to efficiently replicate. Living in Berkeley has encouraged me to have a more active voice in various food movements, and I feel a responsibility as a scientist to engage with the community and open a dialogue about the science behind agriculture. In CLEAR, I am focusing on improving my science communication skills and encouraging the public to be evidence-based activists.

Yuan.JPGYuan Chen

I am Yuan Chen, a postdoc in Sheila McCormick’s lab at the PGEC, studying plant reproduction. I got my PhD in Chinese Academy of Sciences and study how to increase yield in rice using transgenetic tools. Genetically modified foods (GMOs) are highly controversial in China and US. To find out what people think of GMO and help people understand science behind the GMO foods is what I want to do in CLEAR.