Our Team

Wendy Brown (MERCCURI team, @thewendyred)

IMG_0161 fixWendy Brown is a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at UC Davis. Her research focuses on cartilage tissue engineering and creating a biphasic osteochondral graft to treat cartilage injury. She is also a professional cheerleader, having cheered for the Sacramento Kings and Sacramento Mountain Lions while in graduate school, and now currently cheering on the Oakland Raiders as a Raiderette. Wendy attended the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, where she also danced on the Goldrush dance team, serving as captain her fourth year. In Wendy’s final year in college, she simultaneously cheered for the Atlanta Falcons (NFL), completed an undergraduate research thesis for which she won the President’s Undergraduate Research Award, and graduated with high honors, earning her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering with minors in Spanish and organizational leadership. In addition to school and cheering, Wendy is an advocate of STEM education from children and young women, and has spoken as the key note presenter at numerous events including Girl’s Exploring Tomorrow’s Technology (GETT) and the Pop Warner Little Scholars banquet.

Darlene Cavalier (MERCCURI team)

cavalierGMUHiResDarlene is the founder of SciStarter, an online citizen science community. The site is a one-stop-shop for citizen scientists and a shared space where researchers recruit participants.  She is also the founder of Science Cheerleader, an organization that creates mechanisms for public engagement in scientific research and policy discussions, but is far better known for giving rise to the “Science Cheerleaders” comprised of more than 250 current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers. Cavalier herself was a cheerleader for the Philadelphia 76ers. These so-called Science Cheerleaders playfully challenge stereotypes, inspire young women to consider science careers, and involve people from all walks of life in citizen science.


David Coil (MERCCURI team, @davidacoil)

DavidIconDavid Coil is a Project Scientist is the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis.  He received his PhD from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 2005, working on retroviruses and gene therapy, followed by a 3-year postdoc in Leuven, Belgium working on Legionella bacteria.  David joined the Eisen lab in 2011 to work on outreach and public education associated with the Microbiology of the Built Environment through the microBEnet project.  In addition he supervises undergraduate research projects focused on microbial ecology and genomics and is involved with bacterial genome assembly work in the lab.


Jonathan Eisen (MERCCURI team, @phylogenomics)

JAEJonathan Eisen is a Professor at the University of California, Davis with appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences.  Eisen has spent his entire career studying different aspects of microbial diversity, in particular in the development and use of high throughput laboratory and computational methods to study microbes by analyzing their genomes.  Dr. Eisen’s current research focuses on communities of microbes, how they interact with each other and with “hosts” such as plants and animals, and what determines their distribution patterns across the planet. In addition to his research, Dr. Eisen is a vocal advocate for “open science” especially “open access” to scientific publications and is the Academic Editor-in-Chief of PLoS Biology.  He is also an active and award-winning blogger and science communicator.  Prior to UC Davis he was on the faculty of The Institute for Genomic Research and held an Adjunct Appointment at the Johns Hopkins University. He earned a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Stanford University and an A.B. in Biology from Harvard College.

Jenna Morgan Lang (MERCCURI team, @jennomics)

2ea23470288a3ef78f7c7aa087776693After putting in a 11-year stint at the DOE Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Jenna received her PhD in Microbiology from UC Davis in 2012. She enjoyed working in the lab of her advisor, Jonathan Eisen so much that she’s opted to stick around as a Project Scientist. She is a new proponent of Citizen Science, and volunteers as the Newsletter Editor for SciStarter.com. She is interested in how microbial communities do what they do wherever they do it (which is everywhere!) so enjoys collaborating on a wide variety of research projects.


Russell Neches (MERCCURI team, @ryneches)

russellRussell Neches is a UC Davis Microbiology graduate student working with
Jonathan Eisen to apply metagenomic methods to the movement ecology of
microbes. Russell received his bachelors degree in physics from
Northeastern University. Prior to graduate school, Russell worked at
UCLA on the theoretical physics of advanced nuclear reactors and
volunteered as a classroom assistant at Para Los Niños elementary school
in Los Angeles.  Russell is a strong advocate for using Open Hardware in scientific
research, and has makes it an important part of his own research.

Blog    : http://vort.org/

Mark Severance (MERCCURI team)

mark1-150x150Mark Severance is Science Cheerleader’s & SciStarter.com’s “Space Guy” and he has been a Space Guy all of his life.  He has had a life-long interest in spaceflight and views the space program as a catalyst for engaging minds of all ages in a deeper understanding of science, engineering, technology and mathematics.   In his day job, he is the NASA Human Space Flight Network Director at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. In this position manages the communication and tracking support for the ISS and all of its visiting vehicles.  Previously, he spent most of his career in Mission Control Center-Houston as a Flight Controller for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.  He also did a stint in Russia leading the NASA Operations team at MCC-Moscow when NASA had Astronauts onboard Mir. Additionally, Mark worked in NASA’s Office of Education where he started a project to develop educational activities experiments for the International Space Station.  He began his hands on interest in space as teenager through his radio tracking of Soviet and Chinese human and robotic spacecraft in conjunction with the Kettering Group.  He credits his satellite tracking activities as the most directive force in his educational and professional careers.

Summer Wagner (MERCCURI team)

sci cheer 2Summer Wagner (nee Williams) holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from Wichita State University and works as an engineer at NASA – Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.  During her tenure at JSC, she has worked in various parts of the Engineering Directorate including the Biomedical Systems Division, Crew and Thermal Systems Division and the Avionic Systems Division.  Summer’s time in these divisions has provided her the opportunity to be an engineer on several interesting and exciting projects involving biomedical research, International Space Station habitability, space photography and videography and many others.  Summer is a former Houston Texans Cheerleader and is currently a Science Cheerleader.   Combining her career as an engineer at JSC and her involvement in the Science Cheerleader campaign, Summer became a part of the Project MERCCURI team.

Debbie Biggs (Educational Materials)

Debbie2Debbie is developing the educator guide for Project M and is currently the STEM Teacher Leader for Clarke County Public Schools in Berryville, VA. She also is the Owner and President of Education Pathways, LLC, which provides consulting services and professional development opportunities on education and space related topics. Prior to starting her company, Debbie managed the Education Flight Projects Office at NASA Headquarters and served as Co-Manager for the Educator Astronaut Program. She developed educational payloads for the International Space Station and served as an education liaison to NASA’s Astronaut Corps. Prior to joining NASA, Debbie taught middle school Earth and life sciences in Springfield, Ohio. She received her B. S. in Education from Wright State University, Dayton, OH and her M.S in Natural and Applied Sciences from Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK.

Holly Bik (Branding/Visualization, @hollybik)

headshotHolly Bik is a postdoctoral researcher in computational biology at the University of California, Davis, also working in the lab of Jonathan Eisen. Her research uses high-throughput DNA sequencing to study microbial eukaryotes in diverse environments, with an emphasis on evolution and biodiversity in the deep-sea. Holly has recently been focusing on the development of data visualization tools for Project MERCCURI. She can neither confirm nor deny that she prefers Unix commands over labwork.


Claire Labeux (PR)

CL headshotClaire LaBeaux has more than 15 years of experience delivering standout PR results for technology products and web sites, consumer products, and non-profits. She met Darlene Cavalier while working for another STEM education organization and was pulled into the world of Science Cheerleader by Darlene’s infectious enthusiasm. Claire loves the empowering message of Science Cheerleader, and face it, working with this group is just plain fun! With a science-loving son and a cheerleading daughter, Claire is immersed in both worlds in both her home life and her professional life.


We would also like to acknowledge the help of all the undergraduate students at UC Davis who assisted with sample processing and microbial identification.  Thanks to Hannah Holland-Moritz, Madison Dunitz, Ruth Lee, Alex Alexiev and Jennifer Flanagan.


Project MERCCURI is a collaboration of microBEnet/UC Davis with the Science Cheerleaders, Space Florida, NanoracksJPL-NASA, and SciStarter.com.