Blavatnik Doctoral Fellows: 2021-2022 Cohort

Baltasar Lopez Sardi, Department of Chemical Engineering

Baltasar is a new student in the M.D./Ph.D. Chemical Engineering program who will be joining Columbia this upcoming fall 2021. He received a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Florida in 2021. Baltasar is highly interested in the study of biomaterials and their applications to solve medical challenges faced today. He is specifically interested in the manipulation of the properties of the biomaterials to mimic natural phenomena to tackle biomedical problems. Outside of research, Baltasar has multiple hobbies, from traveling to playing tennis to meeting new people. He is very excited to be joining the Chemical Engineering program at Columbia and meeting all the faculty and fellow students who will be there throughout his journey to get an M.D./Ph.D. degree.

Brian DeHority, Electrical Engineering

Brian graduated from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and is an entering M.S./Ph.D. student under Dr. Ken Shepard. He has worked in both micro-scale sensor design as well as in the development of novel therapies for neural disorders and ailments. As an example, his senior design project was a non-invasive neurostimulation device that increases the window of efficacy for ischemic stroke treatments. Under Dr. Shepard, he hopes to further this research in the junction of healthcare and electrical engineering, promoting the integration of electronics with the human biology. Brian is thrilled to be a Columbia Student and Blavatnik Fellow, joining the forefront of scholars at this intersection of engineering and medicine.

Aidan Therien, Electrical Engineering

Aidan, a graduate of Duke University, will join the Department of Electrical Engineering at Columbia as a Ph.D. student. At Duke, Aidan double majored in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, completed a chemistry minor, and contributed to multiple healthcare-oriented research projects. During the pandemic, he joined the Duke University COVID Response team in partnership with Duke Health to work on developing aerosol-reducing ventilator components to decrease risk of infection for healthcare workers. His research interests include medical devices, biotechnology, and signal processing. He will work with Professor Christine Hendon developing biomedical optics technologies that enable structure-function analysis of biological organ systems.

Serena Russell, Mechanical Engineering

Serena is starting her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University as a Blavatnik Fellow focusing on biomechanical models of pregnancy as a part of Dr. Kristin Myers' lab. She received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and her Sc.M. in Epidemiology from Brown University where she focused in women's reproductive and environmental health as an AAUW Selected Professions Fellow and Draper Fellow. In her master's program, she studied maternal depression as it relates to environmental exposures and adapted a microfluidic model of early pregnancy. Serena is interested in advancing our understanding of pregnancy and other conditions that affect women's reproductive health, with the ultimate goal of reducing maternal and child mortality due to conditions such as preterm birth.

Sebastian Salazar, Computer Science

Sebastian graduated with a B.S. in Applied Physics from Columbia University in May 2021. As an undergraduate student, he conducted research for the Nuclear Engineering division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he researched how Machine Learning techniques can be used for Nuclear Safeguards. During his senior year, he started working on a research project that explored the actionability and interpretability of Machine Learning models in healthcare. Sebastian really believes that cutting-edge theoretical Machine Learning research has the potential to positively change how the world around us operates, which is why he decided to pursue a Ph.D. in the field. He is an incoming doctoral student in the Computer Science department, where he will be working with Professor Ansaf Salleb-Aouissi to study the interpretability and actionability of Machine Learning models.

Parth Gami, Biomedical Engineering

Parth is an M.S./Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University and is part of the Ultrasound Elasticity and Imaging Laboratory led by Dr. Elisa Konofagou. In May 2021, Parth graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with highest honors in biomedical engineering and a minor in industrial design. At Georgia Tech, Parth conducted research in stem cell development, medical diagnostics, and medical device development. His primary research at Georgia Tech focused on the development of a low-cost, noninvasive device for the early diagnosis of preeclampsia in low-resource settings. Parth is interested in the use of medical imaging for early detection and tracking of disease. As part of the Ultrasound Elasticity and Imaging Laboratory, Parth will join the Pulse Wave Imaging group and investigate the use of ultrasound for vascular disease detection.

Mathini Vaikunthan, Biomedical Engineering

Mathini is interested in the application of high-throughput technologies to understand and combat drug resistance. She has previously worked in the lab of Professor Mark Brynildsen at Princeton University to develop synergy screening techniques to find potential anti-virulence therapies for E. coli infections. After graduating, she joined Deloitte Government and Public Services as a consultant to work on issues of public health. She will be joining the lab of Professor José L. McFaline-Figueroa to develop single-cell genomics tools and subsequently deploy these tools against aggressive tumor types that frequently fail the standard-of-care.

Christia Victoriano, Biomedical Engineering

Originally from Pensacola, Florida, Christia is an incoming M.S./Ph.D. student in the Biomedical Engineering Department. She graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2021 with a bachelor's degree in Biomedical Engineering. As an undergraduate, she worked to develop streamlined, cost-effective molecular diagnostic assays for viral pathogens such as Zika, Influenza, and SARS-CoV-2. For her doctoral studies, she will be conducting research in Professor Sam Sia’s lab. She is interested in utilizing microfluidics to develop fully-integrated diagnostic tests in order to expand access to medical testing in low-resource areas.

Jane Liao, Chemical Engineering

Jane graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in May 2018 and will join the Chemical Engineering Department at Columbia as an M.S./Ph.D. student. As an undergraduate student, Jane participated in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition and conducted research in synthetic biology and protein engineering. After graduation, she joined GlaxoSmithKline as a Research and Development Scientist, where she supported the purification process development of several therapeutic antibodies for clinical and commercial manufacturing. Jane is excited to continue interdisciplinary research at Columbia and contribute to the advancement of novel therapeutics.

Howard Nicholson III, Biomedical Engineering

Howard graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and minor in music. This fall, Howard will start in the Biomedical Engineering M.S./Ph.D. Program working under the mentorship of Dr. Clark Hung in the Cellular Engineering Laboratory to understand how physical and chemical stimuli impact cells and tissues in order to incorporate these forces in strategies for developing functional tissue substitutes of clinical relevance. He is also interested in investigating how bias and racism may lead to inequity in healthcare and biomedical innovation.