SCI Cafe

Christopher Joe started Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours, LLC on October 31, 2018 as a way to diversify his family’s Black Angus cattle farm. The property, located in the heart of the Black Belt in Newbern, Alabama, has been in the family since the early 1900s. This area has been stricken with poverty and suffered a lack of economic development. Joe aims to educate and demonstrate to private landowners how to become more environmentally friendly to birds, improve their habitat, and create a business to economically benefit to the area. Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours offers an opportunity for people to experience the thrill of seeing various birds and wildlife on private property.

Joe reached out to Alabama Audubon of Birmingham to assess the potential for birding tours in August of 2018, and hosted his first birding tour for Alabama Audubon Society members, alongside University of Alabama graduate students, in February of 2019. In July of that year, the first ever Black Belt Birding Tour was hosted on the farm, drawing record attendance of over 120 people.

Christopher Joe
Owner, Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours, LLC

May 18, 2020


Meeting Opens:
6:00 PM CDT
Meeting Opens:
6:00 PM CDT
Meeting ID:
936 6330 1177

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About the Presenter

Christopher Joe, a native of Greensboro, Alabama, is the son of Cornelius and Leola Joe. His father is a retired agribusiness educator with 30+ years of teaching experience. Joe earned a Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness Management from Alabama A&M University in 2007. He works as a District Conservationist located in Macon County Alabama with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency under the USDA.

Joe and his wife Christy Joe have a 1-year-old daughter named Summer Grace. They reside in Montgomery, AL.

Barreling through a forest fire astride an ATV, cruising across Gulf waves to distant barrier islands, wrestling 300 lb fish – no, this isn’t the latest action blockbuster, it’s just a day in the life of an ecologist! From extreme ecosystems to your local public park, nature has so much to teach us. Ecologists dedicate their lives to studying how living organisms interact with their environment, and what happens when an ecosystem becomes unbalanced. Similar to how a medical doctor may prescribe treatment to a sick patient, restoration ecologists work to heal broken ecosystems. In the wake of a year fraught with environmental disasters, restoration ecology will become increasingly key in mitigating climate change. While this field of study is critically important, it is also chock full of adventure! Join Kellyn LaCour-Conant as she shares stories from the field, from Alaska to Costa Rica and beyond, and teaches how we can all be restoration ecologists in our everyday lives.

Kellyn LaCour-Conant, MSc
PhD Student in Urban Forestry at Southern University; Assistant Program Coordinator with Baton Roots Community Farm

April 20, 2021


About the Presenter

Kellyn LaCour-Conant is a daughter of Isle Brevelle and a restoration ecologist based in Iti Humma (Baton Rouge, LA). As a teen, Kellyn was active in the Student Conservation Association, supporting environmental work in the Houston area where she grew up, and traveling the United States to work backcountry trails alongside federal employees. She went on to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Amherst College, a Master’s in Marine and Environmental Biology from Nicholls State, and currently, a PhD in Urban Forestry from Southern University. She has coupled her academic experience with professional work in the governmental and non-profit sectors, and now serves as the Assistant Program Coordinator for Baton Roots Community Farm. When not knee deep in mustard greens, Kellyn is a dedicated youth mentor and contributor to regional environmental justice movements. In her spare time, she loves crafting, playing beach volleyball, marathoning all things Star Wars, and keeping up with her friends, family, partner, and pets – Fela, Atwood, and Tonks.

Climate change is forcing many alpine species upslope, including American pikas (Ochotona princeps), small rabbit-relatives that typically inhabit high-elevation mountain ranges of western North America. However, despite dramatic elevational shifts and local extinctions in some parts of their range, these animals persist in several surprising habitats in the Pacific Northwest, including the low-elevation rainforests of the Columbia River Gorge and areas severely burned by wildfire. In this talk, Dr. Johanna Varner will describe some of her research on the distribution and behaviors of pikas living in the Gorge and on Mt. Hood, including how the populations have rebounded after recent wildfires. This research helps to advance our knowledge of the true habitat requirements and climate sensitivity of pikas and may inform their conservation and management.

Johanna Varner, PhD
Asst. Professor of Biology, Colorado Mesa University

March 16, 2021


About the Presenter

Biologist Johanna “Pika Jo” Varner studies mountain mammals called pikas, a potato-sized rabbit relative that lives in alpine rockslides. These adorable animals were the inspiration for Pikachu, but their habitat may be threatened by climate change. Johanna studies how some pikas are able to persist in unusual places– research she hopes will inform their conservation.

Johanna currently teaches at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, but she also has extensive experience engaging public audiences in science, from K-12 classrooms to zoos and museums. She founded several citizen science programs in which people participate in monitoring local pikas, and has even helped volunteers to publish their findings. These efforts have earned her several awards for public engagement in science.

Johanna holds Bachelors and Masters degrees from MIT and a PhD from University of Utah. In her spare time, she loves to ski and run on trails with her dogs.

Hadiyah-Nicole Green, PhD

Killing Cancer with Tech and Love: A Physicist's Approach

During this presentation, Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green will discuss her inspiration and the development of her novel cancer treatment that utilizes nanotechnology and lasers in a site specific, thermal ablation therapy called Laser Activated Nano-Therapy (LANT). This technology has demonstrated ~100% tumor regression in mice after a single treatment over 15 days, with no observable side effects. Further, Dr. Green also designed a 3-in-1 system to target, image, and treat cancer, resulting in ~40% tumor reduction in mice after a single treatment: Fluorescently-Labeled Antibody-Guided Laser Activated Nano-Therapy (FLAG LANT). These approaches could serve as the prototype for a variety of inoperable, difficult-to-treat tumors, including head and neck, skin, breast, colorectal, brain, lung, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

Hadiyah-Nicole Green, PhD
Founder, Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation
Director, NanoBioPhotonics and Targeted Cancer Therapeutics Laboratory
Asst. Prof., Morehouse School of Medicine, Department of Surgery

February 18, 2020


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About the Presenter

Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green is a STEM pioneer, influencer, humanitarian, and entrepreneur who is introducing the world to the next generation of cancer treatments and affordable healthcare through a non-profit business model and her expertise in physics, nanotechnology, immunotherapy, and precision medicine. She is one of the first African American women to earn a Ph.D. in physics in the United States with the distinction of being only the second from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Dr. Green developed a revolutionary cancer treatment that uses lasers and nanotechnology to completely eliminate cancer in mice after one 10-minute treatment in just 15 days with no observable side effects. She founded a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation (, to raise the funding for human clinical trials and ensure that this treatment can be made affordable for everyone. Dr. Green has intertwined her life’s purpose into the mission of the organization: to change the way cancer is treated and reduce the suffering of cancer patients by providing a treatment that is accessible, affordable, and effective. This endeavor could lead to saving some of the 8.8 million people who die each year from cancer worldwide. To learn more and join her efforts, visit, and follow her on social media @DrHadiyahGreen and @OraLeeOrg.

Dr. Green has been recognized for her scientific and humanitarian contributions and leadership. The US Department of Veterans Affairs granted her a $1.1 million Career Development Award in 2016. A variety of media outlets have highlighted her story, including NBC News, New York Times, Forbes, People, Huffington Post, BET, Apple News, USA Today, The History Channel, Apple TV’s “Dear Oprah” Episode, PBS, and NPR. Ebony and The Root magazines celebrated Dr. Green as one of the “100 Most Influential African Americans” in the United States. She has been honored by BET with the Breast Cancer Advocate of the Year Award and named Top 30 Under 40 in Healthcare by Business Insider. Most recently, USA Today distinguished Dr. Green as one of 100 Women of the Century, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Rosa Parks.

Jessica Fagerstrom, PhD, DABR

Bananas, Superheroes, and Radiation

Have you ever heard of any superheroes from comic books or movies that got their powers from radiation? What is radiation and why does it matter in everyday life? It turns out that ionizing radiation, the kind of radiation that can do damage to DNA, can have some pretty big effects on our health. That’s why radiation can be a powerful tool when it comes to treating cancer. Medical physicists working in radiation therapy make sure that radiation is delivered safely and effectively to target tumor cells. And while medical physicists don’t work with radioactive spiders or big green hulking heroes, they do perform a very important job to make sure that patients get the care they need.

Jessica Fagerstrom, PhD, DABR
Medical Physicist, Northwest Medical Physics Center

January 19, 2020

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About the Presenter

Dr. Jessica Fagerstrom is a Medical Physicist who is passionate and committed to treating cancer patients with the highest quality healthcare. Through her work at the Northwest Medical Physics Center, Dr. Fagerstrom ensures that radiation is delivered safely and effectively. Dr. Fagerstrom is board certified in Therapeutic Medical Physics through the American Board of Radiology and is an active member of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. She earned her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her previous work took her to Hawaii where she was a clinical physicist at Queen’s Medical Center. Dr. Fagerstrom enjoys volunteering with young students, encouraging the next generation to pursue a career path in Medical Physics and other STEM professions. She also loves hiking, marathon running, and snorkeling with her husband, family, and friends.

Ritu Raman, PhD

Biohybrid Robots

Biological materials sense and respond to their environment. When you exercise, you get stronger. When you cut your skin, you heal. But the built environment and the machines that surround us don’t do this… why not? Because they aren’t built with biological materials, like we are! What if, instead of building machines with metals and plastics, we built machines powered by biology? This is the motivation underlying the new field of biohybrid design which is revolutionizing robotics, medicine, and the world around us.

This talk will introduce you to robots that use living skeletal muscle to move and walk around, the first demonstrations of their kind. Unlike traditional robots made of synthetic materials, these biohybrid robots dynamically adapt to their environment, and can do things like exercise to get stronger and recover completely from damage. They are one of the first applications of the emerging discipline of biohybrid design, a field that promises building with biology will shape our technological future.

Ritu Raman, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow, Langer Lab
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

December 15, 2020

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About the Presenter

Dr. Ritu Raman is an engineer and writer with a passion for biohybrid design: building machines powered by biological materials that work with the human body to fight disease and damage. She received her B.S. magna cum laude from Cornell University and her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow advised by the renowned Prof. Robert Langer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She holds many awards for scientific innovation, including receiving a L’Oréal USA Women in Science Fellowship and being named to the Forbes 30 Under 30: Science and the MIT Technology Review 35 Innovators Under 35 lists. Ritu grew up in India, Kenya, and the United States where she learned to appreciate and thrive in diverse and dynamic environments. She is passionate about increasing diversity in STEM and has championed many initiatives to empower women in science, including being named a AAAS IF/THEN ambassador and founding the Women in Innovation and STEM Database at MIT (WISDM).

Soils are everywhere, and because of that, they often fade into the background. Yet, soils are home to some of the most biodiverse communities on Earth and provide fundamental ecosystem services to humanity. In this talk, I will discuss the diversity, complexity, and heterogeneity of soils across landscapes — and demonstrate how soil scientists use this understanding to study how soils form, how they function, and how they might change in the future. In this context, I will share research findings on how soil biodiversity responds to environmental change and reflect on how I use both science and art as tools for strengthening our connection to soils and soil biodiversity.

Yamina Pressler, PhD
Soil Scientist & Educator,
California Polytechnic State University

November 17, 2020

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About the Presenter

Dr. Yamina Pressler is a soil scientist, writer, educator, speaker, and artist who is on a mission to make soil a household name. As an educator and scholar at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Yamina shares her enthusiasm for soil science and ecology with undergraduate students while studying the many ways that soil organisms control how soils form and function. Yamina is always looking for creative ways to tell science stories and strengthen our connection to soil through art, writing, photography, and film. Yamina holds a B.S. in Environmental Management and Protection from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and a Ph.D. in Ecology from Colorado State University. She worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Texas A&M University prior to returning to Cal Poly in 2019. When she’s not doing science, you can find Yamina running, watercolor painting, and spending time with her loved ones in the desert.


How can we foster new scientific discoveries while simultaneously promoting education, conservation and shared stewardship of natural resources? Lindsey Rustad of the USDA Forest Service introduces us to “Water in a Changing World,” a program that uses real-time environmental sensor data to create data visualizations and musical sonifications of the water cycle. Learn the neurobiology of how the integration of arts and science can increase understanding of pattern and process in ecological data; and how it forms an inviting approach to educating and connecting the public with water science and environmental literacy.

Lindsey Rustad, PhD
Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service

October 20, 2020

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About the Presenter

Dr. Lindsey Rustad is a Research Ecologist for the USDA Forest Service Center for Research on Ecosystem Change in Durham, NH, co-Director of the USDA Northeastern Hub for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change, Team Leader for the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in NH. She received a B.A. in Philosophy at Cornell University in 1980, an M.S. in Forest Science at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences in 1983, and a Ph.D in Plant Science in 1988 at the University of Maine. She is a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, and recently received the 2018 USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station’s award for Distinguished Scientist and the 2018 USDA Forest Service Deputy Chief’s award for Distinguished Science. Her areas of expertise include biogeochemistry, watershed studies, climate change impacts, advanced environmental sensor systems, and the integration of art and science. Dr. Rustad has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters and has led several international research coordination networks.

An interactive discussion about how we see the world, emerging brain technologies, and questions about the future that will make you think about how we think.

Come and change your mind!

Jayatri Das, PhD
Chief Bioscientist, The Franklin Institute

September 15, 2020

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About the Presenter

Dr. Jayatri Das is Chief Bioscientist and Director of Science Content at The Franklin Institute and an invited Fellow of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania. She has led development of several exhibitions at the Institute—including Your Brain, a national award-winning exhibit about the neuroscience and psychology of the human brain—and directs various programming initiatives to advance informal science education about materials science, nanotechnology, synthetic biology and other areas of emerging science and their societal impact. An evolutionary biologist by training, she’s perpetually curious about the small forces that make up our big world.

As the historic and sobering COVID-19 pandemic persists across Alabama, the US, and the rest of the world, Dr. Erdmann will provide updates and perspective on therapeutic interventions and how they have evolved in recent months.

Nathan Erdmann, MD, PhD
Asst. Professor, Div. of Infectious Diseases,
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Assoc. Scientist, UAB Center for AIDS Research

August 25, 2020

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About the Presenter

Dr. Erdmann completed his MD/PhD at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. His research focused on understanding the mechanisms of HIV-mediated inflammation and neurotoxicity. He then joined the ABIM Research Pathway at UAB, completing his internship and residency before joining the Division of Infectious Disease as a fellow. He is now an Instructor of Medicine, and his research focuses on T cell responses in HIV under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Goepfert. Dr. Erdmann has described the role of CD4 T cells in controlling HIV infection through cytolytic activities.