Researchers and Postdoctoral Scholars
Below are the current researchers and postdoctoral scholars with the Center for Science and Society and the Presidental Scholars in Society and Neuroscience program.
Valerio Amoretti is a literary scholar who studies how reading and writing affect our mind and brain. In particular, Valerio draws from contemporary object-relations psychoanalysis to understand the role that literature and narrative play in enabling long-term psychic change and creativity. As a Presidential Scholar, Valerio will explore the neural basis for these processes.
Valerio’s background includes training in both science and the humanities. After studying chemistry and training in a molecular neuroscience lab at University College London, Valerio worked for the UK’s National Health Service in clinical research and outreach. He holds graduate degrees in Psychoanalytic Psychology from the Anna Freud Centre and in Literary Studies from the University of York. Valerio completed his doctorate in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia in 2019, with a dissertation on the psychic work involved in reading modernist fiction.
Project Title: The Creative Self: Autofiction, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience
Raphaël Millière is a philosopher interested in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of cognitive science, with a particular focus on self-consciousness and self-representation. Raphaël received his PhD in 2020 from the University of Oxford, where he developed a pluralist account of self-consciousness grounded in novel empirical evidence collected in collaboration with neuroscientists. As a Presidential Scholar, he will use virtual reality to investigate theoretical and empirical questions regarding spatial self-representation.
Project Title: The Self in Space: Spatial Content and Self-Representation in Philosophy and Neuroscience
Paul Linton is a neuroscientist and philosopher specializing in 3D vision. He received his PhD in 2021 from the Centre for Applied Vision Research, City, University of London, where his research challenged our understanding of distance perception by showing the visual system is unable to triangulate distance using the two eyes. He was also part of the DeepFocus team at Meta Reality Labs. Paul is the author of The Perception and Cognition of Visual Space (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Before vision science, he was a stipendiary lecturer in law at St Hilda’s College, Oxford University, and a teaching fellow in philosophy at University College London. As a Presidential Scholar, Paul will develop his new two-stage theory of 3D vision using the latest techniques in machine learning and fMRI in the hope of explaining how we experience the 3D world.
Paul Linton is a 2022-23 Fellow of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University.
Project Title: What’s Special about Stereo Vision?
Nedah Nemati researches the role of lived experience in neuroscientific experimentation and the influence of such experience in characterizing behavioral and cognitive concepts. Her doctoral work parlayed this interest into an examination of how behavioral neurobiologists have drawn from many kinds of experiences to develop and understand the concept of ‘sleep’. This scholarship is informed by Nedah’s prior laboratory research on the relationship between circadian rhythms and addiction in rodents at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), and on sleep deprivation and death in Drosophila melanogaster (common fruit fly) at Harvard Medical School. She received philosophical training at Millsaps College (BSc), earned her MSc in biological sciences at UMMC, and will defend her PhD in history and philosophy of science from the University of Pittsburgh in May 2022.
As a Presidential Scholar, Nedah will draw from historical and phenomenological traditions to characterize an account of lived experience in neuroscience and to develop a philosophy and science of behavior in neuroscience - one that includes what should count as a behavior. Her investigations reflect a longstanding interest in the potential and limitations of using neuroscience to impart information about the mind. By characterizing the role of lived experience in scientific practices, Nedah’s project will aim to impart greater clarity in scientific uses of behavioral concepts and their clinical translation. Her interests also include the use of AI in neuroscience, intersections of neuroscience and medicine, interrogating the aims of science, and the metaphysics of science.
Project Title: Moving from Flies to Frogs: Understanding Behavior through Lived Experience
Natalia Pasternak is a microbiologist, with a PhD and post-doctorate in Microbiology, in the field of Bacterial Genetics at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. She is the former director in Brazil of the international festival of scientific communication “Pint of Science” (UK), columnist for the Brazilian national newspaper "O Globo", for The Skeptic magazine (UK), and Medscape (WebMD). She also hosts two weekly radio shows “The hour of Science” at Brazil's CBN national radio station. She contributes as a visiting professor at the Public Administration School at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, São Paulo, and as a research collaborator at the University of São Paulo. She is currently the publisher of Question of Science magazine and president of Question of Science Institute, the first Brazilian Institute for the promotion of skepticism and rational thinking. She is the first Brazilian to become a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) – USA, in recognition of outstanding work in the promotion of science, skepticism and critical thinking. In 2020, and again in 2021, she was chosen Brazilian of the year in Science by IstoE Magazine. She was chosen Personality of the year by the Group of Latin America Daily Newspapers, and received the Ockham Award from The Skeptic magazine, for the promotion of skepticism and rational thinking in Brazil.
She has written two books on popularization of science, Science in our daily lives, which won Brazil's National Literature prize for best science book in 2021 (Prêmio Jabuti), and Against Reality: science denialism, its causes and consequences. She was the only Brazilian listed by BBC as the 100 most influential women of 2021, and she is currently an Adjunct Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University, at the Center for Science and Society, by invitation of Professor Stuart Firestein. Her research focuses on how to improve science communication and combat denialism and misinformation, bringing scientific thinking for future policy makers, and helping to create an international collaboration for science-based global policies.
Mike Petriello is an interdisciplinary conservation social scientist interested in the many connections and feedbacks between human cultures and the environment. In particular, his work centers on the recognition, inclusion, and maintenance of Indigenous and local knowledge in conservation and natural resource management, empowerment, and transdisciplinary approaches to collaborations such as knowledge co-production. He received his PhD in Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences and Applied Biodiversity Science in 2020 from Texas A&M University, where he worked with small-scale farmers (campesinos) in Nicaragua to explore the cultural significance and boundaries of local knowledge tied to wildlife hunting. Mike continues to work with many past and present research partners, including Labrador Inuit collaborators from his previous knowledge co-production work as a postdoctoral fellow at Dalhousie University with the Sustainable Nunatsiavut Futures Project. As a postdoctoral research scholar in the Center for Science and Society, Mike will build on his experience to explore good practices for the ethical co-production of knowledge in climate change research while co-developing research with diverse groups at Columbia University and beyond.
Matthew Sachs received his PhD from the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. Matthew's research focuses on understanding the neural and behavioral mechanisms involved in emotions and feeling in response to music. His projects involve applying data-driven, multivariate models to capture the patterns of neural activity that accompany uniquely human experiences with music, such as feelings of chills, pleasurable sadness, and nostalgia.
Project Title: Mapping the Rich Tapestry of Music-Evoked Emotions
Madi Whitman is a postdoctoral research scholar and assistant director of co-teaching in the Center for Science and Society. As a sociocultural anthropologist and science and technology studies (STS) researcher, Madi studies how technologies, institutions, and subjectivities are made together. This research is currently animated by questions about surveillance and marginality in changing regimes of data collection in higher education in the United States.
Madi’s pedagogical work includes supporting interdisciplinary co-teaching at Columbia, developing curricula in science and society, and investigating the landscape of STS education in the U.S. Prior to coming to Columbia, Madi was involved in collaborations with the National Science Foundation Center for Science of Information in creating critical data modules for students. Madi earned a PhD in anthropology from Purdue University in 2020, completed a BA in anthropology at the University of North Dakota, and was previously a Visiting Research Fellow in the Program on Science, Technology and Society at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Lydia Gibson is an anthropologist and ecologist exploring forest use, ritual practices, and traditional knowledge of Jamaican Maroons and how these are affected by geopolitical shifts, climate change, and colonial legacies. Lydia is also interested in the technical arrangements of environmental sciences and how these are disrupted by the particular conditions of island tropical montane cloud forests (in the Caribbean), which render many technologies and methodological approaches untenable. As well as working with local communities and knowledge-holders to monitor environmental conditions, countermap large areas of the forest, observe population changes, and position their expertise as central to forest ecology, Lydia also collaborates with other stakeholders and international experts to establish baseline data of local bird populations through satellite telemetry and banding efforts. Lydia is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission and contributes to the monitoring and assessment of endemic parrots. Lydia holds a PhD in Environmental Anthropology from University College London, a Masters in Anthropology from UCL, and a Bachelors in Mathematics and Biology from the University of Bristol. Prior to this current postdoctoral role, Lydia was an Economic and Social Research Council postdoctoral research fellow at University College London. Lydia remains an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London's Anthropology Department.
Julia Hyland Bruno is an ethologist interested in behavioral development, in particular, that of social animals -- such as songbirds, or humans -- that learn how to communicate with one another. In 2017, she received her PhD in biopsychology and behavioral neuroscience from the City University of New York, where she studied the rhythmic patterning of zebra finch vocal learning. Her present and planned research is focused on the social dynamics of this developmental process. How is a learned communication system transmitted across generations? How do competitive or accommodating social interactions affect the vocal culture of a group? As a presidential scholar in society and neuroscience, Julia explores how patterns of communication among individuals influence social organization.
Project Title: Learning to Improvise? Using Social Songbirds to Study Vocal Culture in the Lab
Hadeel Assali is an anthropologist and former engineer whose work looks at the ongoing colonial legacies of the discipline of geology as well as anti-colonial ways of knowing and relating to the earth in southern Palestine. She received her PhD in Anthropology in 2021 from Columbia University, where her research looked specifically at the development of geology in Britain and how it was exported to the colonies for extraction, mapping, and eventual state-making technologies. More broadly, she examines the narratives deployed to produce space(s) and how they become imbued with the authority to do so. She will be running the “Race, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice” seminar, which was founded by earth science graduate students, with the goal of exploring ways of decolonizing the earth sciences. She is also a filmmaker and writer whose work draws heavily from her family stories based in Gaza, Palestine. Her new research seeks to focus on waterways and the colonial legacies access to, relations with, and knowledge of them.
Prior to her anthropological training, Hadeel was trained as a chemical engineer at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and in a joint MS program with the National University of Singapore. Her nearly ten years of experience with a major oil company, several of which were as a project manager for environmental remediation projects, have largely informed the direction of her research. After receiving her PhD from Columbia, she was an ACLS Emerging Voices Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania (2021-2022), where she worked on developing her dissertation into a book manuscript, which she plan to continue developing while back at Columbia University.
Dilshanie Perera is a cultural anthropologist and ethnographer whose work examines the politics of the climate crisis and its relationship to pervasive and durable forms of inequality and dispossession. Dilshanie’s research takes a broad view of risk temporalities, emphasizing the multiple histories and enduring inequities that structure hazard and vulnerability in particular places. Their doctoral dissertation, titled Barometer Falling: Weather, Risk, and the Meteorological Imagination, examined changing perceptions of risk in Bangladesh — a postcolonial context grappling with the present-day effects of climate change, where weather and landscape have historically been construed as problems of governance.
Dilshanie holds a PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University, an MA from the New School for Social Research, and a BA from the University of Chicago. Prior to coming to Columbia, Dilshanie was the Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Climate and Inequality at the Climate Museum, the first museum in the U.S. dedicated to inspiring action on the climate crisis.