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Monday, September 26, 2022

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New Faculty: College of Sciences

Seven new faculty members will join the college this fall.
By SDSU News Team

San Diego State University’s College of Sciences is devoted to science education and research. Students of the college spend many hours working hard in the labs conducting experiments and collecting data.

Seven new faculty members will join the college this fall. They are among 53 new faculty members joining the SDSU family this semester. 

Department of Biology

Tanya Renner

Tanya Renner, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley 2012)

Renner is an evolutionary biologist specializing in genetics and genomics. Her areas of interest include molecular evolution, systematics, and the effects of multi-species interactions on form and function. She is currently researching gene co-option and the molecular diversity of enzymes used in plant carnivory, plant form and function, including morphological adaptations for insect capture, and evolutionary mechanisms behind insect defense, host preference and detection.

Nicholas Shikuma, Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz 2011)

The importance of microbes to the development and health of diverse animals is becoming increasingly appreciated. Yet our understanding of how microbes interact with their hosts is only in its infancy. Nick Shikuma studies how microbes mediated marine animal development; a process of fundamental importance to the fields of evolutionary biology, developmental biology and animal ecology. For example, the recruitment of new larval animals is essential to sustain and disperse coral reef populations. Nick’s laboratory applies genetic, genomic, biochemical- and cell-biology approaches to study the interactions between model bacteria and animals.

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Christal Sohl

Christal Sohl, Ph.D. (Vanderbilt 2010) 

Sohl is interested in probing mechanistic questions at the intersection of biochemistry and human disease. She uses kinetic, structural, and cellular tools to address how altered enzyme activity affects function and downstream pathways. In particular, Sohl studies the catalytic, structural, and functional consequences of enzyme mutations implicated in cancer. By understanding these molecular mechanisms of dysfunction, structure-function relationships can be illuminated, and ultimately platforms for targeted therapy can be developed. She strives to foster a collaborative environment that will have a meaningful impact on improving human health.

Manal A. Swairjo, Ph.D. (Boston University 2006)

Swairjo is a structural biologist and biophysicist specializing in X-ray crystallography, RNA biogenesis and evolution of the genetic code. Her areas of interest include the biogenesis of transfer-RNA, evolution of the genetic code, structure based drug discovery, retroviral replication, and structural enzymology. Her research focuses on discovery and characterization of the biosynthesis pathways to the modified nucleosides of tRNA, especially modifications involved in translational fidelity. She is holder of National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation grants aimed at studying the molecular and structural underpinnings of key tRNA modification pathways implicated in bacterial virulence and viral replication.

Department of Computer Science

Xiaobai Liu, Ph.D (Huazhong University of Science and Technology 2012)

Liu is working in the areas of machine learning and computer vision. The major goal is to study the computational principles underlying visual data, e.g. images and videos, and build automated computer systems that are capable of discovering informative representations, inferring semantics and extracting 3-D structures. His research is closely related to multimedia computing, cognitive neuroscience, data mining, computer graphics, natural language processing and artificial intelligence. He is presently studying collaboration system between human and robot, and he is investigating the ways for modeling, learning and exchanging visual knowledge between intelligent agents.

Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Jorge Carlos Román

Jorge Carlos Román, Ph.D. (University of Florida 2012)

Román is a statistician and his main areas of research are Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithms and Bayesian Statistics. Bayesian statistical models can be very useful in the applied sciences but they often require the use of MCMC algorithms that allow for the estimation of intractable quantities associated with complex posterior distributions. In a large number of MCMC applications, MCMC-based estimates are reported without a valid measure of their quality and there is no coherent strategy for stopping the algorithm. Román’s research involves finding simple sufficient conditions (that the user can check) under which an MCMC procedure is honest; that is, there is at least one valid measure of the quality of estimation and a coherent strategy for deciding when to stop the simulations.

Department of Physics

Kenneth M. Nollett

Kenneth M. Nollett, Ph.D. (University of Chicago 2000)

Nollett is a theoretical physicist working at the intersection of nuclear physics and astrophysics, particularly the origins of the chemical elements and the power sources of stars. By studying the "Big Bang" and the interiors of the Sun and other stars, he works to determine properties of elementary particles and the history of matter. This work depends on reaction (collision) rates of atomic nuclei in very hot environments, and Nollett is a leader in the difficult computation of these rates from properties of neutrons and protons. He also works to make the best possible use of laboratory data in determining reaction rates.

Department of Psychology

Aaron J. Blashill

Aaron J. Blashill, Ph.D. (Saint Louis University 2011)

Blashill is a clinical health psychologist who focuses his research on the role body image plays in influencing health behaviors. He is particularly interested in studying HIV medication adherence, HIV sexual transmission risk behaviors, skin cancer prevention and anabolic-androgenic steroid misuse. Another focus of his work is studying sexual orientation health disparities. Dr. Blashill also studies vulnerable developmental phases, including adolescence and emerging adulthood, and a number of scientific methods/statistical analyses are employed within his lab including: treatment development and randomized clinical trials, longitudinal analysis, mediation, moderation, meta-analysis and psychometric evaluation.

Dustin Thoman, Ph.D. (University of Utah 2008)

Thoman is a social psychologist specializing in social and cultural influences on motivation. His research investigates how one’s social identity and social interactions influence motivational experiences (e.g., interest and belonging) and self-regulation. His recent work addresses the broadening of participation and diversity in science education. He utilizes experimental and field methodologies to study how individuals, particularly those from stigmatized or underrepresented backgrounds, develop and maintain educational/career interest in science.  His work is guided by a “full-cycle” (theory- application- action) model of social psychology, so he is actively engaged in the implications of his research beyond the lab.

Willian Lee Wiggins, Ph.D. (University of Michigan 2013)

Wiggins studies brain activation patterns involved in typical and impaired socio-emotional development (for example, social interaction with other people, reading people’s emotions, reacting to people’s facial expressions). In particular, Wiggins is interested in understanding factors (e.g., genetics, social, family) that affect brain function in children and adolescents without disorders, in addition to youth with autism, depression, anxiety and irritability symptoms. To accomplish this, Wiggins employs functional MRI, functional connectivity, genetic, behavioral and neuropsychological tools.