It’s been another great semester in Natural Sciences! We witnessed impressive strides in research as evidenced by prestigious awards and grants to faculty and students. Highlights include UC Merced’s Inaugural Presidential Chair in Climate Change, another faculty NSF CAREER award, and a People’s Choice Award at the Systemwide UC Grad Slam. Our faculty also hosted an excellent STEM Education Seminar Series.  


This year also saw the appointment of the campus’s first three Associate Deans for Equity, Justice and Inclusive Excellence, positions that were first proposed in our school’s academic plan. This semester the Associate Deans for EJIE hosted faculty listening sessions across all three Schools to begin the process of understanding the diversity of faculty’s perspectives and lived experiences. This was just the first step toward bringing our school’s vision of equity, justice and inclusive excellence to life. 


Spring commencement ceremonies will be held over the next 3 days. Tonight (May 12), our graduate students will have their own celebration, hosted by the Graduate Division. School of Natural Sciences undergraduate students will graduate along with students from School of Engineering tomorrow. I am excited to join our faculty and staff in celebrating with our students and their families. 


I congratulate you all on another fantastic year in the School of Natural Sciences and I hope you enjoy reading about just a few accomplishments and pieces of news about members of our community.  


Dean Dumont 

Rebecca Ryals was named UC Merced’s inaugural Presidential Chair in Climate Change.

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Asmeret Asefaw Berhe was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

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Michael Findlater is part of the group that formed a new DOE Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC).

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David Strubbe’s California Initiative for Solid-to-Plasma Dynamics for Fusion Energy, was selected to be funded by UC Multi Campus Research Programs and Initiatives.

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Sora Kim has been awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER award. Stay tuned for an upcoming news item!

Graduate Students


10 graduate students took part in this year's UC Merced Grad Slam competition on April 10th. Chemistry and Chemical Biology student Aneelman Brar won the chance to compete at the Systemwide Grad Slam on May 5tlh where she won the People's Choice Award for her talk on recycling carbon dioxide.

Here are the 5 School of Natural Science students who competed in the local Grad Slam. Click here for a complete list.

Aneelman Brar

Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Title: "Recycling Carbon Dioxide; Fuel From Air"

Advisor: Professor Michael Findlater


Samuel Erickson


Title: "It's Full of Stars: Harnessing Light in Space"

Advisor: Professor Sayantani Ghosh

Dora Mendez

Quantitative and Systems Biology

Title: "A Diabetic Heart Hero - Thyroid Hormone"

Advisor: Professor Rudy Ortiz


Edwin Rivas Meraz

Environmental Systems

Title: "Fishing for Solutions: A New Tool to Treat Mercury Contaminated Sediments in Water"

Advisor: Professor Peggy O'Day


Ambarish Varadan

Quantitative and Systems Biology

Title: "Viruses within the human gut: Friends or Foes?"

Advisor: Professor Juris Grasis


In addition to having her research featured in SIAM News, Maia Powell was selected as a Black History Month 2023 Honoree by Mathematically Gifted & Black.


Pin Lyu is about to defend his PhD thesis and will start his independent career as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in Physical Chemistry at the University of North Carolina Asheville in July 2023.

Will Spaller will defend their PhD thesis soon and will become a Principal Research Scientist at Northrop Grumman.

Bowen Han will defend their PhD thesis in June. After receiving multiple post-doc offers, Bowen decided to take a post-doc position at Oak Ridge National Lab.

PhD student Ajay Khanna has a summer internship lined up at Frontier Medicines Corporation, where they will use computational chemistry to model drug discovery, focusing on covalent binding between small molecules and their targets.

Brianna Aguilar- Solis received a prestigeous National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.


Ph.D. alumnus Qiaochu “Michael” Li, along with current Ph.D. student John O. Wilson and B.S. alumnus Luis Arteaga-Castaneda published a paper in the Proceesdings of the National Academies of Science. They found that cargo membrane cholesterol could be a therapeutic target to mitigate transport dysfunctions, which are a common early hallmark of aging and neurodegeneration.

Solar films developed by alumnus William Delmas while on an internship at NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) survived 10 months in space with minimal degradation, and the little damage that did incur was more than 90 percent reversible. Students Samuel Erickson and Jorge Arteaga also worked on the project and their results were published in the journal, Advanced Energy Materials.


Alumni Kinsey Brock accepted a tenure track position at San Diego State University, starting January 2024.

Robert Boria accepted a tenure track faculty position in the Department of Biology at San Francisco State University, starting January 2024.

Yumary Vasquez accepted a postdoctoral position at the Joint Genome Institute with Tanja Woyke, starting in August 2023.

Arianna Daniel was selected as a GEM Fellow at the LLNL this summer.

Christi Turner was selected as a Fellow for this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Lindau, Germany.

Caleb Larnerd and Pratik Adhikari, along with Biology major Ashley Valdez and Cognitive Science major Alex del Toro (now a graduate student at Brown University), published a featured paper in the Journal of Neuroscience in March 2023, entitled "Rapid and chronic ethanol tolerance are composed of distinct memory-like states in Drosophila."

Bianca E Salazar will present her research at the Annual Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) Conference held in Minnesota on July 20-23. The title of her presetntation is, "Instructor actions toward engagement & their influence on students' sense of belonging, self-efficacy, and final grade".

Feng Yu was accepted to a summer internship at openEye, and has just had a paper accepted at the Journal of Physical Chemistry B entitled, "Structural preferences shape the entropic force of disordered protein ensembles".

Kris Troy published a paper in April 2023 in BMC Genomics entitled, "The esBAF and ISWI nucleosome remodeling complexes influence occupancy of overlapping dinucleosomes and fragile nucleosomes in murine embryonic stem cells".

Dora Mendez received the American Physiological Society Porter Fellowship.

Eira Jardines received the American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship in April 2023.

Diane-Marie Brache-Smith received a prestigeous National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Undergraduate Students

Outstanding Graduating Senior Award Winners

Each semester the School of Natural Sciences recognizes exceptional graduating undergraduate students with ‘Outstanding Graduating Senior Awards’. Students are nominated and selected by the faculty who oversee their major. Awardees are selected based on criteria including academic excellence, achievements in research, service to UC Merced, and community service and outreach. This semester’s winners were recognized during an awards reception on April 27th:


Parker Fromm: Applied Mathematical Sciences

Ruoxi Zhao: Applied Mathematical Sciences

Jule Gomez: Biological Sciences

Sarif (Quan) Morningstar (Tran): Biological Sciences

Madeline Door: Biological Sciences

Gurleen Kaur: Biological Sciences

Ashley Valdez: Biological Sciences

Dylan Yost-Slinker: Chemistry

Jocelyn Rojas: Earth Systems Science

Nathan Simons: Physics

On the Spot Awards

The On-the-Spot Recognition Program provides SNS staff a way to show appreciation for their fellow SNS colleagues in-the-moment. Nominators submit a few sentences of recognition which are shared during our monthly staff breakfast. Winners receive a gift card as a token of appreciation.


This semester’s winners were:

Stephanie Lopez (nominated by Josephine Vang)

Vanessa Sanchez Villegas (nominated by Mireille Smith)

Karina Villegas (nominated by Mireille Smith)

Cynthia Granados (nominated by Mariah Gonzales)

Shannon Adamson (nominated by Angie Salinas)

Vivian Saephan (nominated by Angie Salinas)

Tom Martinez (nominated by Angie Salinas)

Emily Heng (nominated by Angie Salinas)

Xochitl Sosa Vazquez (nominated by Donna Jaramillo-Fellin)

Thanh-Ngoc Le (nominated by Donna Jaramillo-Fellin)

Maria Cristina (MC) Soriano (nominated by Donna Jaramillo-Fellin)

Jessica Pall (nominated by Donna Jaramillo-Fellin)

Celso Lopez (nominated by Donna Jaramillo-Fellin)

Mireille Smith (nominated by Mel Alexandra)

Vivian Saephan (nominated by Shannon Adamson)

Angie Salinas (nominated by Betsy Dumont)

Dora Lopes (nominated by Mel Alexandra)

Whitney Williams (nominated by Mel Alexandra)


Impact Awards

SNS Impact Awards recognize individuals or teams who have measurable, positive impacts on people and process improvements within and beyond the confines of our School. These contributions are independent of those expected from or assigned to workgroups or committees and involve collaborations across SNS staff units or, even better, collaborations with other campus partners.


This semester’s winners were:

Shannon Adamson for her leadership and teamwork with SOE and SSHA curriculum managers and for advocating for effective management approaches.

Josephine Vang for her collaboration with APO and staff in SSHA and SOE around new processes for hiring Lecturers.

Faculty & Staff Lunch

Each semester, SNS faculty and staff are invited to come together for a fun, informal lunch. Here, they can enjoy some down time while reconnecting outside of the office.

This semester's Faculty & Staff lunch was held on April 26th.

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