This story is published in YFile’s New Faces Feature Issue 2019, part two (see part one here). Every September, YFile introduces and welcomes those joining the York University community, and those with new appointments.
Fifteen new faculty members will join the Faculty of Science this academic year in the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Physics & Astronomy, Mathematics & Statistics, and Science & Technology Studies.
The new faculty members will boost the Faculty with their expertise and enthusiasm, and provide even better learning experiences and opportunities for students.
“It is an exciting time in the Faculty of Science and I welcome our new faculty members,” said Interim Dean of Science EJ Janse van Rensburg. “Not only do we have a robust and intensive research community here at the Faculty of Science, we also strive for teaching excellence by continuing to recruit highly qualified candidates to our teaching stream. Our new colleagues will help the Faculty of Science to excel even further in research and teaching.”
Nassim Bozorgnia joins the Department of Physics & Astronomy as an assistant professor. Her research is focused on dark matter phenomenology, and more specifically on developing various strategies to significantly improve our knowledge of the dark matter distribution in our galaxy.
Understanding the nature and distribution of dark matter in the Milky Way is a fundamental problem in astroparticle physics, and has important implications for attempts at discovering dark matter. Bozorgnia has studied the impact of astrophysical and particle physics uncertainties on dark matter searches using various approaches. In particular, she has extracted the dark matter distribution of Milky Way-like galaxies from cosmological simulations, and studied their implications for dark matter direct and indirect detection. More recently, she has studied the interaction of dark matter subhalos with stellar streams. Analyzing the features induced by these interactions in stellar streams can provide important information on the particle nature of dark matter. The scope of Bozorgnia’s research interests also includes tackling other open problems in dark matter phenomenology, as well as exploring different topics in astroparticle physics.
Bozorgnia obtained her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2012. She has held postdoctoral positions at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, at the University of Amsterdam and at Durham University.
Claire David joins the Department of Physics & Astronomy as an assistant professor. She is jointly appointed as scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) to work on the future international science project in particle physics called the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).
Neutrinos are the most abundant particles yet very difficult to detect. Studying the elusive neutrino is key to understanding how the whole universe is structured. David plans to contribute to the calibration program of DUNE as well as the data acquisition system of the detector. The challenge is to make it sensitive to both high-energy neutrinos from the beam generated at Fermilab and also from cosmological events such as supernova, where neutrinos coming from these exploding stars reach us at lower energy.
Prior to coming to York, David first completed a master of engineering in applied physics at INSA Toulouse in France, specializing in nanophysics and instrumentation. She then obtained a PhD in particle physics from the University of Victoria, working in the ATLAS collaboration at the Large Hadron Collider. She has continued working with ATLAS as a postdoctoral Fellow at DESY in Hamburg, Germany. David contributed to the discovery of a rare production mode of the Higgs boson that can unveil unknown physics beyond the current theory. In parallel, she has worked in detector design and construction to upgrade the ATLAS experiment. While starting the newborn DUNE-Canada group with Deborah Harris on neutrino physics, David will continue her activities on collider physics within the local ATLAS team at York University.
Deborah Harris joins the Department of Physics & Astronomy as a professor and senior scientist in a joint hire between York University and Fermilab in the U.S.
Harris aims to understand neutrinos, tiny neutral particles that weigh almost nothing and almost never interact, but could be the reason that the universe is dominated by matter and not simply light. Harris works on DUNE, a new cutting-edge neutrino experiment based in the U.S. that will send neutrinos 1,300 kilometres through the Earth and study how much they change from one kind to another in the intervening time. DUNE will be built using the lessons learned from the current round of experiments, and Harris will continue her research on how neutrinos interact in matter and how they change over time using data from two different neutrino experiments, MINERvA in the U.S. and T2K in Japan.
Harris received her PhD in high-energy physics from the University of Chicago in 1994. As a research associate at the University of Rochester, she used high-energy neutrinos to better understand the weak force. In 1999, she joined the staff of Fermilab, but focused on lower energy neutrinos to better understand neutrinos themselves – how they change over time, and how they interact. She has served as the scientific co-spokesperson of the MINERvA experiment since 2010.
Elaina Hyde will join the Department of Physics & Astronomy as an assistant professor. Her research “in and above the cloud” combines astrophysics, data science, cloud computing, planetary sciences, optical engineering, telescope operations and telescope observations. Her current favorite programming languages are Python, C, R and SQL.
Hyde’s research focus is galactic archeology and data science for astrophysics. While gathering data, she has worked with instrumentation and telescopes across the world. Her experience with optical telescopes will allow her to provide technical leadership for York University’s Allan I. Carswell Observatory. Furthermore, she will assist the observatory operations and co-ordination.
A key motivation for Hyde is the promotion of astronomy education and research through public telescope activities and exploration. As a lecturer, trainer and consultant, she is constantly innovating teaching methodologies for interdisciplinary audiences across the sciences, as well as for businesses, students and the general public.
Prior to starting at York, Hyde went from the University of Arizona to a Marie Curie Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, a master’s in the Netherlands and a PhD at Macquarie University in Australia. This was followed by positions as research support astronomer, international telescope support office information officer and instructor, as well as private-sector roles as trainer and consultant in data science, and work as a certified Google Cloud trainer and Google Cloud engineer.
Christopher Jang joins the Department of Biology as an assistant professor. He completed his PhD at the University of British Columbia, where he studied the novel mechanisms viruses use to hijack and control the protein synthesis machinery of their hosts. His postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania was an organic extension of his doctoral work, and was focused on the genome-wide regulation of protein synthesis in the context of human circadian rhythms.
Throughout his career, Jang has been passionate about biology education and has held teaching appointments as a visiting assistant professor at Haverford College and as a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, he was involved in the development and assessment of an introductory course-based undergraduate research program that consisted of a metagenomic analysis of the campus urban microbiome. He hopes to continue developing these types of scalable experiential programs in biology at York.
Currently, Jang’s other research interests include the metacognitive regulation of study behaviour and its manipulation, and the development of community-based education programs in undergraduate biology.
Jude Dzevela Kong joins the Department of Mathematics & Statistics as an assistant professor. His area of research is mathematical biology, with a focus in spatial ecology and infectious diseases. More precisely, he is interested in formulating and analyzing models for the spatiotemporal dynamics of species on the move, the dynamics of phytoplankton and bacteria in marine water, and the dynamics of microbes vis-à-vis environmental and human health.
Kong earned a PhD in applied mathematics from the University of Alberta in 2017, and was a Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC) postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University and the Center for Discrete Mathematics & Theoretical Computer Science at Rutgers University from 2017 to 2019.
Kong is enthusiastic about big data, using his research to inform decision makers, teaching and bringing mathematics to underrepresented communities. He loves dancing, cooking and eating good food, and gardening.
Nikola Kovinich received his PhD in 2011 from Carleton University in Ottawa. His PhD research focused on understanding the genetics and biochemistry of specialized metabolite biosynthesis in the seed coat of medicinal black soybean, and on engineering soybean metabolism to produce a visible colour marker that could be used to identify genetically modified grains.
His postdoctoral studies at Ohio State University in the U.S. focused on understanding the fundamental processes of metabolite transport in plants. In 2012, Kovinich was awarded a Pelotonia Postdoctoral Fellowship to investigate his novel approach for producing derivatives of natural anticancer drugs using a combination of semi-synthesis and metabolic engineering. In July of 2015, he was hired by West Virginia University at the rank of assistant professor to research the genetics of plant metabolic responses to stress. He taught undergraduate- and graduate-level molecular genetics courses. Kovinich joins York University to continue researching gene regulatory networks that control plant metabolism and to teach undergraduate and graduate biology students.
Kovinich was nominated for awards in mentoring undergraduates in research at Ohio State and West Virginia universities, and was recently selected to receive National Institutes of Health funding for training undergraduate students in molecular genetics research.
Robin Marushia joins the Division of Natural Sciences in the Department of Science & Technology as an assistant professor. Marushia is a plant invasion ecologist with a background in both theoretical and applied ecological research. She earned a BA in biology and a certification in secondary education at Gonzaga University, where she acquired her holistic, liberal arts approach to higher education. Marushia went on to earn an MSc in plant biology and a PhD in plant sciences from the University of California, Riverside, investigating a range of invasive plant traits, patterns and processes in arid California ecosystems.
She also completed an NSF Fellowship quantifying the trait patterns of invasive versus noninvasive Brassicaceae species in New Zealand. Marushia then completed a postdoc at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), focusing on plant community dynamics via the Nutrient Network, a global research co-operative, and studied patterns of invasion in stressful ecosystems. She transitioned to public outreach and education as the associate director of the Koffler Scientific Reserve, and to developing student-centred learning experiences and as a lecturer at UTSC, Seneca College, University of Toronto Mississauga and Arizona State University.
Currently, her pedagogical interests include bringing natural history and experiential learning to the university classroom, and engaging urban students with nature right here in Toronto. Marushia is looking forward to joining the Division of Natural Sciences and the York University community, and creating field course opportunities for non-science students.
Andrew McEachern joins the Department of Mathematics & Statistics as an assistant professor. He completed his PhD in applied mathematics at the University of Guelph in 2013, working on a project sorting DNA sequences. He most recently worked as a limited-term assistant teaching professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
McEachern is interested in making large classes seem small through the use of active learning techniques and bringing online resources into the classroom. He is also interested in the transition from secondary to tertiary education, as well as using game theory as part of the education process. He is an avid participant in outreach at every level and will be starting a popular mathematics column at York. He has also supervised undergraduate students on projects in mathematical biology.
Tihana Mirkovic joined the Department of Chemistry in July 2019 as an assistant professor. She received a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Toronto, where her interdisciplinary research encompassed the development of nanomaterials and studies of photophysical and dynamical aspects of nanoscale systems. Since graduation, she has effectively balanced research, teaching and administrative positions at the University of Toronto. As a postdoctoral Fellow and research associate, she worked on elucidating the principles of light harvesting in photosynthesis. Parallel to her work in the lab, Mirkovic has taught large undergraduate classes to science and engineering students as a sessional lecturer. More recently, she worked at the Impact Centre at the University of Toronto, where she focused on facilitating the development of educational programs aimed at bridging the gap between academia and industry. She combined her two passions, data science and education, and has completed a number of data-driven studies aimed at elucidating career paths of scientists and the landscape of entrepreneurship and innovation education at Canadian universities.
Her interest in education spans beyond the classroom, as she has been involved in a number of outreach programs, most notably as a senior mentor for the Canadian Chemistry Olympiad and as a volunteer for Pueblo Science, a non-profit organization aiming to increase science literacy in developing countries. At York, Mirkovic plans to develop theme-based frameworks integrating interdisciplinary projects and experiential learning activities into the chemistry curriculum in order to synergistically enhance students’ technical and professional skills and prepare them for careers in research or industry.
Saeed Rastgoo joins the Department of Physics & Astronomy as a full-time sessional assistant professor. His research focuses on an interconnection between quantum gravity, black holes and the fine structure of space-time on both fundamental and phenomenological levels.
Many of the present problems in fundamental physics are associated to a regime where both gravitational and quantum effects are significant. This is the realm of quantum gravity, a theory that is not yet fully developed. Rastgoo has been working on the development of nonperturbative approaches to quantum gravity, as well as studying quantum black holes. He has studied the interior and the full space-time of quantum black holes, including their singularities, horizons and interaction with matter fields. Furthermore, by analyzing the propagation of gamma ray bursts on cosmological quantum space-time, he has derived phenomenological bounds on the scale of quantum gravity. He is currently working on a hybrid approach to the quantization of black holes, which includes all the backreaction effects between gravity and matter fields. He is also involved in developing models that consider space-time as an emergent phenomena using a variety of techniques, including renormalization methods as well as Mandelstam’s approach.
Rastgoo obtained his PhD from Universidad de la Republica in Uruguay in 2012, and has held postdoctoral positions at UNAM and Universidad Autonoma Metrpolitana in Mexico. Prior to coming to York University, he was an assistant professor of physics at the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico.
Sandra Rehan joins the Department of Biology as an assistant professor with a research focus in evolutionary ecology. Rehan received her PhD (biology) from Brock University, with a focus on behavioural ecology and population genetics. Her PhD was co-supervised at Flinders University of South Australia, where she studied life history evolution and molecular phylogenetics. Subsequently, she conducted a research fellowship at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. After her PhD, Rehan became a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, where she focused on behavioural genomics. In 2013, she joined the University of New Hampshire as an assistant professor of genome-enabled biology, where she developed genomes and characterized microbiomes for native bees.
Rehan’s research focuses on sustaining native bee populations through a combination of landscape ecology and comparative genomic and sociodemographic approaches. Her research combines a passion for the fundamental biology of bees with the need for applied conservation. More recently, Rehan has been researching bee holobionts, with a particular interest in understanding the interplay of nutritional ecology and social environment on bee health.
Rehan has received several awards, including grants from the National Science Foundation, National Geographic, and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research. She was recently named a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society in London, U.K.
Birgit Schwarz joins the Department of Biology as an assistant professor with a secondment in the Division of Natural Science.
She completed her PhD in biology in 2016 at Simon Fraser University (SFU), where she studied migratory connectivity and communication in a small shorebird, the western sandpiper. While completing her PhD, Schwarz’s interest in teaching and in pedagogical research intensified and she participated in several Teaching & Learning Development Grant projects.
Her postdoctoral research at the Institute for the Study of Teaching & Learning in the Disciplines at SFU examined the experiences of instructors with the implementation of flipped classrooms. As a sessional instructor, Schwarz taught evolution and behavioural ecology courses at SFU, as well as several block courses at Quest University in Squamish, B.C.
Trevor VandenBoer joins the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor in analytical and environmental chemistry. His research involves the development of instrumentation to probe the atmospheric chemistry of reactive nitrogen species. Emissions of reactive nitrogen have perturbed the global nitrogen cycle to unprecedented levels. These chemicals are introduced to the environment by human transportation, agricultural and industrial activities. His work focuses on the impacts of these compounds on indoor and outdoor air quality, with an emphasis on the role of exchange at interfaces. VandenBoer’s research program is currently funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Environment & Climate Change Canada.
VandenBoer completed a PhD in environmental and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Toronto, focusing on the quantitation and atmospheric chemistry of alkyl amines and nitrous acid at a variety of national and international field locations, including an NSERC-supported exchange at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo. He then held a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L., where he quantified the exchange of reactive nitrogen at the biosphere-atmosphere interface across a latitudinal transect of boreal forest sites.
Tao (Toby) Zeng
Tao (Toby) Zeng joins the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor. Zeng received his PhD under the supervision of Professor Mariusz Klobukowski at the University of Alberta in 2011.
He then did his NSERC and MRI-Ontario postdoctoral research with Professor Pierre-Nicholas Roy at the University of Waterloo (2011-13), and held a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship with Professor Nandini Ananth and Professor Roald Hoffmann at Cornell University (2013-15). He joined Carleton University as an assistant professor in 2015 and moved to York University in 2019.
His research interest lies in theoretical studies of organic optoelectronic processes, vibronic coupling, Jahn-Teller and pseudo-Jahn-Teller effects, relativistic effects in chemistry and microscopic superfluidity.