Speaker Bios

Andrea Liu - Keynote Speaker

Andrea Liu is a theoretical soft and living matter physicist who received her A. B. and Ph.D. degrees in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell University, respectively. She was a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA for ten years before joining the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania in 2004. Liu is currently Speaker-Elect of the Council of the American Physical Society (APS) and Chair-Elect of the Physics Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is a fellow of the APS, AAAS and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cindy Blaha

Cindy Blaha is the George H. and Marjorie F. Dixon Professor of Physics & Astronomy at Carleton College. She obtained her B.S. and Ph.D. in physics and astrophysics at the University of Minnesota and has been teaching and doing research with students at Carleton since 1987. Her current research centers on a galaxy-wide census of emission-line regions in spiral and dwarf galaxies in the Local Group. Cindy is also a Co-PI in the eAlliance project, an NSF ADVANCE program aimed at forming peer-mentoring groups for women faculty in physics and astronomy. She has extended this eAlliance project to include peer-mentoring for CUWiP undergraduates.

Mary Hibbs-Brenner

Mary Hibbs-Brenner is currently the CEO of Vixar Inc, a subsidiary of Osram and a supplier of VCSEL components and subassemblies. She has earned a B.A in Physics from Carleton College, a Ph.D. in Materials Science from Stanford University and an MBA from the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota.

Moumita Dasgupta

Moumita Dasgupta is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Physics at Augsburg University. She specializes in soft matter and biophysics. She is inclined towards studying bio-inspired soft matter systems to understand underlying physical principles which often lie at the intersection of fluid dynamics, solid mechanics and materials. She studies physics behind swimming of microorganisms, systems like bending of elastic objects in viscous or viscoelastic environments and the folding mechanisms and pathways of DNA molecules and DNA nanostructures.

Moumita is also involved in projects which uses problem solving mindset to conduct data driven research geared towards solving civic challenges at the intersection of public health and development. She is passionate about undergraduate teaching and adapts a combination of traditional pedagogical styles and more modern active learning, project based learning and design thinking methodologies. She cares about creating an inclusive learning environment in classroom where individuals with diversity of socio-economic background, outlook and culture feel equally welcome to participate and contribute.

Lucy Fortson

Dr. Lucy Fortson is a Professor of Physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota. As an observational astrophysicist, she uses very-high-energy gamma ray telescopes to study active galactic nuclei. She is also a founding member of the Zooniverse project where over 1.7 million volunteers contribute to discovery research by performing simple data analysis tasks. Fortson focuses on developing human-computation algorithms to tackle Big Data challenges with next generation observatories such as LSST and the Cherenkov Telescope Array. Prior to joining the faculty at UMN, Fortson was Vice President for Research at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and a research scientist at the University of Chicago. She received her BA in 1984 from Smith College in Physics and Astronomy, and her PhD in 1991 from UCLA in High Energy Physics on CERN’s UA1 experiment. She has served on numerous committees including the National Academy of Sciences Astronomy 2010 Decadal Survey, NASA’s Astrophysics Science Subcommittee and the Human Capital Committee of the NASA Advisory Council, the NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee, and the Education and Public Outreach Review Committee for NOAO. She is a member of the American Physical Society, the American Astronomical Society and the Citizen Science Association. Her awards include NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Award, the University of Geneva’s Innovation Award and UMN’s Community-Engaged Scholar Award.

Jenna Freedberg

Jennifer (Jenna) is a second year graduate student in Condensed Matter Experiment, and will use noise techniques to study time dynamics in low dimensional spin glass, a disordered magnetic system as her thesis project. Spin glass can act as a model for more complex systems such as cancer metastasis and the stock market. She first became involved in Quantum Optics research in high school, transitioned to Experimental Particle Astrophysics working in both the XENON and nEXO collaborations throughout most of her undergraduate career, and began research in Condensed Matter Experiment the summer after her junior year.

Jennifer completed her BS in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (upstate NY) in 2018 and grew up in the DC area. At the U, she is involved in Grad Phi and WiPA (women in physics/astronomy), both social organizations seeking to build community amongst physics and astronomy graduate students.

Amy Furniss

Dr. Amy Furniss received her B.S. in Physics at Humboldt State University in 2006. After a year break following the receipt of her undergraduate degree, she moved to Santa Cruz, California, where she received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics at UC Santa Cruz working with the VERITAS Collaboration to understand the very high energy gamma-ray emission from extreme galaxies known as blazars. After the completion of her Ph.D., Amy continued her research at Stanford University as a post-doctoral researcher for two years before accepting a permanent position as a faculty member at California State University East Bay, in Hayward, California. Aside from being a new mom of two, she spends time outside of teaching physics and astronomy courses to coordinate observation campaigns on extreme gamma-ray galaxies with space and ground-based telescope

Lindsay Glesener

Lindsay Glesener is an assistant professor in Physics at the University of Minnesota. A native Minnesotan, she earned her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley in 2012, and returned to her homeland to join UMN in late 2015. Dr. Glesener analyzes data from ground-based and space-based solar observatories, and also develops technology for new instruments. For her thesis work she was honored with the Tomkins Instrumentation Thesis Prize from the Royal Astronomical Society. She is the principal investigator for X-ray instruments that fly on sounding rockets and small CubeSats to study the Sun.

Taviare Hawkins

Taviare Hawkins is Professor and Chair of the Physics Department at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse (UWL). La Crosse is a primarily undergraduate institution known for nurturing strong teacher-scholars, especially in the Physics Department. Physics is an award-winning department and is ranked among the top three undergraduate institutions for graduating the largest number of physics majors.

I am an experimental biophysicist working, with a team of undergraduates, to understand the underlying mechanical nature of microtubules and how their rigidity can be regulated by drugs or other proteins. I have been at UWL since 2012, prior to that I was a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Physics Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a Mount Holyoke Fellow and Visiting Professor of Physics. I hold two master’s degrees from the Syracuse University in Physics and Computer Science as well as a PhD in Physics from there. I came to the field of biophysics after completing a computational dissertation in nonlinear system analysis with applications in human computer interfacing and gesture recognition.

Audra Hernandez

Audra Hernandez, Ph.D., is the Director of UW-Madison’s McNair Scholars Program and an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Before her current position, she was an Assistant Research Scientist in the Department of Astronomy. She received her Ph.D. in Astronomy at the University of Florida. Her research interests included the physical conditions, dynamics, and formation of star-forming clouds within the Milky Way Galaxy. As a first-generation college graduate and as a Chicana scientist, Dr. Hernandez strives to increase the number of underrepresented minorities (URMs) in Ph.D. career tracks, especially within the STEM fields. Eager to serve as a strong leader and mentor, she directed the Wisconsin Astrophysics REU program in 2017-2019. With support from the National Science Foundation, she had the privilege of volunteering with UW-Madison's Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program as a STEM Professional Advisor from 2014 - 2018. In 2016, she was selected as one of the 30 STEM professionals to attend the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americas in Science (SACNAS) Linton-Poodry Summer Leadership Institute (LPSLI).

Lindsey Hillesheim

Lindsey Hillesheim leads AI strategy and solution development efforts at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. She received her PhD in physics from the University of Minnesota and has held roles spanning science policy, program management, and product development at places that include the US State Department and DARPA.

Anne Kornahrens

Anne Kornahrens is an American Physical Society (APS) Representative and a speaker for CUWiP 2020. She is the STEP UP project manager at APS, where she leads an initiative to engage high school teachers in inspiring the next generation of women in physics. She received her scientific training in organic chemistry (B.S. from Boston College and join DPhil/PhD from University of Oxford/The Scripps Research Institute). Before APS, some of her work advocating for women in STEM included grassroots work with the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), a AAAS Science & Tech Policy Fellowship at the National Science Foundation and running a workshop on Inclusive Leadership in STEM for AAAS.

Cornelia Chesley Lang

Cornelia Chesley Lang is an Associate Professor and has been a member of the Department of Physics & Astronomy since 2002. She was an undergraduate in physics and astronomy at Vassar College in New York. She completed her PhD in Astronomy at UCLA in 2000 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Massachusetts during 2000-2002.

Her research interests focus on understanding the astrophysics at the very center of our Milky Way Galaxy and of other nearby galaxies using radio telescopes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in New Mexico and also satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Iowa Space Grant Consortium. She served on the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics committee (2009-2010) and the National Science Foundation’s Portfolio Review of Astronomical Sciences committee (2010-2012). She currently serves as the chair of the International Astronomical Union Working Group on the Galactic Center.

Annette Lee

Annette S. Lee is an astrophysicist, artist and the Director of the Native Skywatchers research and programming initiative. She has over three decades of experience in education as a teacher, university instructor, teacher educator, program administrator, professional visual artist, and researcher.

Designed by Lee, the Native Skywatchers initiative seeks to remember and revitalize indigenous star and earth knowledge. The overarching goal of Native Skywatchers is to communicate the knowledge that indigenous people traditionally practiced a sustainable way of living and sustainable engineering through a living and participatory relationship with the above and below, sky and earth. We aim to improve current inequities in education for native young people, to inspire increased cultural pride, and promote community wellness.

We hope to inspire all people to have a rekindling or deepening sense of awe and personal relationship to the cosmos.

Annette’s work in astronomy education research (AER) includes a PhD in Physics and Astronomy with a dissertation entitled, The Effects on Student Knowledge and Engagement When Using a Culturally Responsive Framework to Teach ASTR 101. Results found that students in the course with increased cultural relevancy experienced a 30% increase in the science learning content and underrepresented minority students were eight times more likely to earn an ‘A’. Culturally responsive ASTR101 curriculum and strategies, both anchored in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) have been developed over the past fifteen years.

Annette’s work as a visual artist lives at the nexus of art, science, and culture. Receiving an MFA from Yale School of Art (2000) with a focus on painting and a thesis show entitled “Star Medicine”, the work has since grown into mixed media, digital media, and curating museum exhibits. Annette co-curated an exhibit at the National Museum of Science and Technology Ingenium called “One Sky-Many Astronomies” (Nov. 2017). Currently she is a co-curator and indigenous design advisor for an indigenous astronomy traveling exhibit, “One Sky-Many Worlds: Indigenous Voices in Astronomy” (opening May 2022). Currently Annette is an Associate Professor of Astronomy & Physics at St. Cloud State University (SCSU), Director of the SCSU Planetarium, and Honorary/Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in the Centre for Astrophysics, Distinguished Lecturer-Archaeological Institute of America (IAI)-Webster Lectureship, and an American Astronomical Society (AAS) Shapley Lecturer. Annette is mixed-race Lakota and her communities are Ojibwe and D/Lakota.

Laura McCullough

Laura McCullough is a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where she studies issues of gender and physics. She got her B.A. in physics at Hamline University, and a M.S in physics and Ph.D. in science education from the University of Minnesota.

Rafia Omer

Rafia Omer has a Bachelors degree in Computer Science and is currently taking Physics classes at the University of Minnesota. She hopes to pursue an interdisciplinary research-based career in AstroPhysics doing research in areas such as gravitational lensing, gravitational waves and citizen science.

Rafia came as an immigrant from Pakistan twenty years ago. She is a mother of three and spends her free time watching her kid’s soccer games, teaching Arabic language classes and cooking her favorite Pakistani dishes.

Wendy Reed

Dr. Wendy Reed is Dean of the Swenson College of Science & Engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). She leads a dynamic college, which includes ten departments, over 200 faculty and 3100 students. She received her B.A. in biology from Kalamazoo College and her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from Iowa State University. Her research program focuses on understanding the influence of maternal hormones on growth and development. Dr. Reed comes to UMD from North Dakota State University, where she served as associate dean in the College of Science and Mathematics, and professor and department head in the Department of Biological Sciences.Her work to increase mentorship of faculty, students and staff has been recognized by service and mentoring awards at the collegiate and university levels. She has been a graduate Advisor for MS and PhD students, and has served on graduate committees and admissions committees.

Lis Stolik

Lis is a fourth year grad student working in experimental Condensed Matter. She focuses on the study of transport mechanisms in amorphous/nanocrystalline Si/Ge thin film composites. Some of the experimental techniques she uses during her research are electrical conductivity, thermopower (Seebeck coefficient), and ultrafast pump-pulse (TDTR) thermal conductivity measurements, as well as Raman and X-Ray spectroscopy, and Scanning electron microscopy (SEM). She is a

University of Havana alumna, where she did celestial mechanics modeling and simulations. Lis is also the Women in Physics and Astronomy (WiPA) coordinator, a group composed by graduate students and postdocs, that raises awareness about the important contributions women have made and continue to make in Physics and Astronomy.

Ashley Tao

Dr. Ashley Tao completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees in medical physics at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada). Her graduate work involved developing a multi-modality imaging system to improve diagnostic imaging tools for breast cancer imaging. In 2016, she pursued a diagnostic medical physics residency at Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN). During her time there, she worked on cutting-edge research in MRI, CT, interventional imaging and molecular breast imaging. Her work has been published in some of the top medical physics journals such as Medical Physics, Physics in Medicine and Biology, Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging and the American Journal of Roentgenology. Dr. Tao joined Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, WI as a medical physicist in 2018 and became a diplomate of the American Board of Radiology in diagnostic medical physics in 2019. She was recently appointed to the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) board of directors and is also an active member of the AAPM Women’s Professional Subcommittee.

Jorge Vinals

Jorge has been a Professor of Physics at the University of Minnesota since 2010, and also serves as the current Director of Graduate Studies. He has been on the faculty of Florida State University (the School of Computational Science and Information Technology), McGill University (Physics, and also director of the McGill Institute for Advanced Materials), and was also the director of the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute until 2015. His research interests are in nonequilibrium phenomena, nolinear dynamics, pattern formation and chaos. His current work focuses on the role of topological defects on the dynamical evolution far from equilibrium, with applications to liquid crystals, soft and active matter, and plasticity.

Aaron West

Aaron is a third year grad student working on magnetospheric and auroral dynamics via theoretical modeling. Previously, Aaron contributed to renewable energy research at the University of Washington, and taught introductory science courses to middle school students. Outside of the office Aaron adores music, theater, and tabletop roleplaying games, and all of the wonderful societies with which they intersect. Aaron is also the elected coordinator for 'Grad Phi', the physics graduate student life organization, which seeks to create a welcoming and positive community for physics grads.

Anna Williams

Anna Williams is an observational radio astronomer and assistant professor of astronomy at Macalester College. Her career path began at Wesleyan University where she received her B.A. in astronomy. She then took a year off from school to study star formation in low-metallicity galaxies using optical spectroscopy at Indiana University in Bloomington. Anna switched to radio astronomy while pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and continues to use this electromagnetic regime to study magnetic fields in and around galaxies. She joined the physics and astronomy department at Macalester in 2018. Despite growing up in Minnesota, Anna is currently in search of an outdoor winter sport. She is optimistic her new puppy, Daphne, will be a good skijoring partner in the coming years.

Melissa Eblen-Zayas

Melissa Eblen-Zayas is an experimental condensed matter physicist. She received a BA in Physics from Smith College and a PhD in Physics from the University of Minnesota. Since 2005, she has been a professor of physics at Carleton College (Northfield, MN), where teaching and research are both important parts of her job. She is currently the Director of the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, a role in which she works with other faculty to help them improve their teaching and implement new teaching methods. During Minnesota winters, Melissa mostly likes to hide inside and read, but when the weather warms up, she can be found outside bicycling, camping, or hiking with family and friends.