How Would You Explain the Work You Do to an Undergraduate?

Manavi Chatterjee (Biology):

My research work involves studying neuropsychiatric disorders at the behavioral level and molecular levels. Currently, I am looking at ion channels and their physiology and interactions.

Rajeev Erramilli (Physics):

I build new math and computer tools to help us develop new ways of understanding physics. Our hope is that we can help explain unresolved mysteries like the nature of string theory, which materials we can use for future technologies, and maybe shape the way that we look at our role in the universe.

Juri Miyamae (Earth and Planetary Sciences)

My dissertation research is on the evolution of facial muscles, which are a uniquely mammalian trait that allows us to communicate via facial expressions, find and eat food, actively sense our environments, and manipulate objects.  In order to understand how this important anatomical system evolved, I use a variety of approaches such as examining fossils and modern skulls using microCT scanning to see if we can find signs of when facial muscles appeared in the fossil record; immunostaining in embryos to get a picture of how facial muscles develop and see if that can give us perspective on how facial muscles evolved in the first place and how they can be modified into many different forms; and focusing on one particular form (honestly, the best form) of modification – the mobile nasal probosces, like we see in a wide variety of mammals such as elephants, sengis (aka elephant shrews), tapirs, solenodons (a venomous Caribbean insect-eater), desmans (a semi-aquatic mole) – as a case study in the relationship between anatomy, function, and the larger ecological factors driving the evolution of extreme changes to facial muscles.  So, in short, how the elephant got its trunk, but from a really really deep time perspective!

Martha Muñoz (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)

Evolution proceeds unevenly across traits, space, and time. By this I mean some features and lineages diversify extremely rapidly, essentially in overdrive, whereas others can be inert or nearly so for millions of years. But, what allows some traits to zip along evolution’s autobahn while others seem to be stuck in New York City at rush hour? My research centers around discovering why this is. I investigate the mechanisms that speed evolution up and slow evolution down. 

I approach my research by examining one of evolution’s key architects: behavior. Behavior allows organisms to dictate the tempo and mode of evolution. Sometimes organisms can modify their environments to shield themselves from selection, in effect, putting the brakes on the evolutionary process. In other cases organisms exploit new resources that expose them to selection and in turn, accelerate evolution. My research centers around unpacking the myriad of ways that organisms behaviorally interact with their environment and stitching together how this impacts the evolution of diversity. 


I work with reptiles and amphibians, particularly those from the tropics. A lot of my research has centered on Anolis lizards – a classic case of adaptive radiation. This is a lineage renowned for extremely rapid and prolific evolution. I also work on other systems such as the plethodontid, or lungless, salamanders. These organisms are really interesting foils to the anoles because like anoles, they are also really species-rich; however, they’re not morphologically diverse. I work with different types of systems that are either more or less diverse in some dimensions simply because they are amenable for the questions I am asking.

Rowan Palmer (Engineering):

I’ve done a variety of different work over the past four years, as a member of undergraduate organizations and in professional industry research and internships. In campus clubs, I work on the Rocket Team of the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association, where we design and build large rockets (generally about 1-2m tall) that we launch to heights of 2,000 to 10,000 ft. In all of my professional experiences, I’ve worked mostly in innovation and design, by designing new tools and products in CAD (computer aided design), creating and testing prototypes of those products, and working with teams to solve problems. Most recently, I worked on systems engineering for human space exploration projects – researching technology for use on the moon, designing possible new systems (rovers, habitats, etc. ) based on existing designs, and proposing solutions by bringing together the work of various specialized engineers on related projects.


Dr. Sreeganga Chandra (Neuroscience):

In the last 2 decades or so, we have identified rare families with Parkinson’s in which the disease runs in these pedigrees. In these families there are causal mutations in genes that we study in model organisms to understand the normal functions of these genes and what goes wrong in Parkinson’s


Valerie Navarrete (Biology):

I work in a lab focused on STEM cells and skin. My project focuses on aging and how epidermal stem cells change and differ on a cellular level.


Chika Ogbejesi (Neuroscience):

On the day to day I go to classes, head into lab, do surgeries on mice ( our lab focuses on depression and anxiety in mice), spend time with friends, and check in on frosh [Chika is a froco]

Nazar Chowdhury (Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology):

“Right now I am teaching, which is different than the work I was doing the past 4 years. I am teaching science, biology, chemistry, and physics for MCAT studying. Before that, I was involved in research at the medical school. I was doing my thesis work there as an undergraduate.”