Welcoming the 2021 class of postdoctoral fellows

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Wednesday, September 01, 2021 

By Katy Cain and Aline Niyonkuru

As we move into fall, it’s time to extend a warm welcome to a new class of postdocs!

Every year, the Earth and Planets Laboratory conducts international searches for the best early-career scientists to join our research programs. The postdocs bring fresh expertise, ideas, and abundant energy to campus.  In return, we provide them access to the excellent facilities on campus and mentoring that expands their expertise and prepares them for their future careers.

These scientists are some of the brightest minds in their fields and come from all over the world to work with us. We are excited to have them on our team and can't wait to see their contributions to the EPL team.

Meet the new postdocs on campus

Dr. Jason Williams
Ph.D. in Geosciences, Southern Illinois University

Jason Williams is a data scientist and mineralogist who specializes in using machine learning algorithms to characterize mineral deposits. His methodologies involve implementing clustering algorithms, network visualization, and the training of decision tree classifiers.

Williams joined the campus in June 2021 and is working with Shaunna Morrison and other members of the 4D-initiative team on collaborative projects that incorporate geochemistry, data science, machine learning, numerical modeling, high-performance computing, and geospatial analysis. 

Dr. Eric Edmund 
Ph.D. Physics, IMPMC, Sorbonne Université

Eric Edmund is an experimental physicist who is interested in understanding the properties of planet-forming materials at high pressures and temperatures, in order to better inform our knowledge of the structure and evolution of the Earth and other planetary bodies.

He joined the campus in July 2021 and is working with Alexander Goncharov to study the thermal conductivity of Bridgemanite—the most common mineral in the Earth’s lower mantle—at lower mantle conditions.  

Dr. Tiange Bi
Ph.D. Chemistry, University of New York at Buffalo

Tiange Bi is a computational chemist who specializes in predicting novel materials under pressure. Bi joined the campus in July 2021 and is working with Timothy Strobel, Ronald Cohen, and Peter Driscoll on the crystal structure prediction of new clathrate structures. She is also working on theoretical studies of the transport properties of iron alloys in the Earth and planetary cores. 

Dr. Innocent Chinwe Ezenwa
Ph.D. Geophysics, University of Western Ontario

Innocent Ezenwa is a geophysicist who uses geophysics and geochemistry to understand planetary interior dynamics—past, present, and future! He arrived on campus in August 2021, where he is working with Yingwei Fei to explore element partitioning between iron and silicates in a planet’s early development. 

Dr. James W. Dottin, III
Ph.D. Geology, University of Maryland

James Dottin is a geochemist who focuses on measuring and evaluating the causes of sulfur isotope variations in Ocean Island Basalts (OIBs), Martian meteorites, pallasite meteorites, lunar basalts, and lunar soils.  The overall goal of his research is to understand how sulfur is processed on various solar system bodies through constraints on the dynamic interplay between sulfur and other volatiles that are cycled through planetary atmospheres, crustal components, and planetary interiors.  He will join campus in January as a Nation Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow where he will be working with Dr. Steve Shirey and Dr. Mike Walter to trace the potential global distribution and interaction of recycled protoliths in HIMU mantle reservoirs through sulfur isotope measurements of key HIMU basalts and sulfide inclusions in superdeep diamonds.

Dr. Anjali Piette 
Ph.D. Astronomy, Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University

Anjali Piette is an astronomer who focuses on the study of exoplanet atmospheres—from temperate low-mass planets to highly-irradiated gas giants and isolated brown dwarfs. She is especially interested in what the emission spectra of these atmospheres can tell us about their temperature profiles, energy transport, potential surface/interior properties, and atmospheric chemistry/clouds. 

Piette will be joining campus in September (her arrival date is still TBD due to visa issues) where she will work with Staff Scientist Peter Gao to study atmosphere-surface interactions in sub-Neptune exoplanets. 

Dr. Munazza Alam
Ph.D. Astronomy and Astrophysics, Harvard University

Munazza Alam is an astronomer who specializes in the observation of exoplanet atmospheres, host star elemental abundances, and planet formation and evolution. She is also a National Geographic Young Explorer and has been featured in National Geographic Magazine in addition to several other related publications. She will be joining campus in September where she will work with Staff Scientists Johanna Teske and Peter Gao to connect the compositions of planets and their host stars to inform formation scenarios for gas giant planets.

Dr. Ningli Zhao
Ph.D. Geosciences, Brown University

Ningli Zhao is a mineral and rock physicist. He uses experiments at extreme conditions and micro-analysis to understand the dynamic evolution of the earth. He will join the EPL campus in October, where he will work with Staff Scientist Peter van Keken, to apply the microphysics he learned in the lab to global scale geodynamic modeling, aiming to understand the role of diffusion creep in subduction zones.

Dr. Michael Wong
Ph.D. Planetary Science, California Institute of Technology

Michael Wong is an astrobiologist and planetary scientist whose primary scientific interests are planetary atmospheres, habitability, biosignatures, and the emergence of life. He is also co-authoring a revised edition of the textbook Astrobiology: A Multidisciplinary Approach. He also hosts a podcast that examines science, technology, and culture through the lens of Star Trek. 

He will arrive on campus in October where he will work with Staff Scientist Bob Hazen to assess the Network Topologies of Exoplanet Atmospheres for Potential Biosignatures. 

Dr. Claire Zurkowski
Ph.D. Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago

Claire Zurkowski is a mineral physicist, experimentally studying the chemistry of planetary cores where pressures and temperatures are millions of times higher than ambient conditions. Her research methods include combining powder and single-crystal X-ray diffraction techniques to explore the phase relations and crystal structures of materials relevant to Earth and planetary deep interiors. She will be joining campus in September to work with Staff Scientist Yingwei Fei.  While at EPL, Zurkowski’s work will focus on determining liquid metal percolation in solid silicate mantle and investigating percolative behavior and element partitioning during planetary differentiation. 

Congratulations to all of our new postdocs. Welcome to campus!

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