Who we are

Rotjan-SEA-S230B-2010-39 Dr. Randi Rotjan is a Research Assistant Professor at Boston University in the Biology Department and in the BU Marine Program. She received a B.S. from Cornell University, a Ph.D. from Tufts University, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University; all the while “standing on the shoulders of giants” (see her academic lineage here). She spent 8 years as an Associate Research Scientist at the New England Aquarium, where she simultaneously held positions at UMass Boston and the Smithsonian Institution. She is the co-Chief Scientist of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) Conservation Trust, where she leads the science program for the worlds’ largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a natural climate laboratory and which is fully closed to all commercial extractive activities. Rotjan is also the founder and co-Chair of the PIPA Scientific Advisory Committee. She is a member of Women Working for Oceans (W2O) and the Explorers Club, and is a Faculty Associate at the Boston University Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. She is a member of the Board of Directors for The Nature Conservancy – Caribbean, and the Friends of the Middlesex Fells. She lives in the Boston area with her two sweet children, awesome husband, and a yard full of native plants. @RandiRotjan
Originally from Denver, Colorado, Brianne Dent completed her Bachelors of Science degree at the University of Denver in 2002. She relocated to Boston in 2003, where she worked as a veterinary technician and volunteered at the New England Aquarium.  In 2005 she joined the New England Aquarium full time as an Aquarist and eventually became the Senior Aquarist responsible for the Tropical Gallery.  She was responsible for caring for a variety of Indo-Pacific fish species, cephalopods and corals. Brianne has reared countless generations of cuttlefish and several generations of banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni). Brianne joined the Rotjan lab in 2019 as a senior research technician and uses her skills as an aquarist to keep the lab running smoothly.
Anna-LiquidNitro-768x650 Anna Gauthier is a PhD candidate and works jointly between the Rotjan Lab and the Kagan Lab (Harvard Medical School, Department of Virology). She recently was aboard the R/V Falkor in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to collect deep sea microbes for her dissertation work. Her paper on fluorescent E. Coli being vectored into Astrangia poculata corals on microplastic beads was recently published. Come back to learn more about Anna. :-)  @RatherLargeNerd
Kennedy Dive cert Brian RC Kennedy is a second year PhD student in the Rotjan lab. Prior to this, Brian spent 8 years with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research working on board the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. During his time with NOAA he served as NOAA Corps officer and a civilian managing ocean exploration expeditions as well as leading OER’s telepresence efforts. Brian’s research interest are broad, including but not limited to deep sea ecology, ocean exploration and the technology to better access and document the deep ocean, all of whch can be showcased in his first, first-authored paper in Frontiers in Marine Science! Brian has been part of the first deep-sea dives in both the Phoenix and Gilbert archipelagos, in collaboration with Rotjan and others. @BrianRCKennedy
laura Laura DiRoberts is finishing up her time as a masters student at Boston University.  Laura has a BA in Marine Biology from Salem State University and a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Saint Joseph.  Prior to coming to BU, Laura interned at the Ocean Alliance in Gloucester, MA on the snotbot project.  Her research is focused on symbiotic mediation of nitrogen cycling in the temperate scleractinian coral Astrangia poculata, with a particular interest on anthropogenic nutrient loading. Fun fact from Laura: David Bowie has always been my favorite musician, and I saw him live three times.
Caroline Fleming is a first year masters student. She recently graduated from College of the Holy Cross, where she worked on the phenotypic plasticity of Lytechinus variegatus sea urchin larvae in various feeding conditions under Dr. Justin McAlister. An ecophysiologist at heart, Caroline has dipped her toes in population ecology, phylogeography, and epigenetics, and hopes to have found her home in investigating the dynamic energy budget of Astrangia poculata in the Rotjan lab. When not in the lab or riffling through the nearest tide pool, you can find Caroline putting her Art History minor to work, or hiking to the top of just about any peak she can find. @cflemsscientist
craigcookphotos-12-7 Peter Gawne has a bachelors from Tufts University, and is currently a masters student matriculated through UMass Boston via the UMB-NEAq partnership. He is working on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, examining how iron pollution impacts reef resilience and recovery (in collaboration with Drs. Jessica Carilli and Sangeeta Mangubhai). Pete is also a full-time senior aquarist at the New England Aquarium, and has been working with Randi since 2010, when he first went to Belize with Rotjan in partnership with the Smithsonian Coral Reef Ecosystems Program.
Brenna Brenna Stallings is an incoming masters student. She majored in Biology with a minor in marine science. She is working on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area photomosaics project as part of the 100IslandsChallenge, classifying the coral cover and hoping to look at the changes in sites over time. She is also helping teach and oversee undergrads who are working on the project with her. A fun fact about Brenna: She is learning to play D&D.
 DSC_0250 (2) - Copy Adrienne Breef-Pilz  is an intern in the Rotjan Lab. She received her Masters Degree from Northeastern University Three Seas Program in 2017 and her Bachelors Degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst is Biology in 2013. In the lab she is currently working on a project looking at the behavior of Astrangia poculata under different feeding conditions, and her first paper was just published in Ecology and Evolution. She has had the pleasure of representing the Rotjan Lab in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area with SEA aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, conducting oceanographic research on larval distributions and reef research on coral resilience. Hands down, PIPA is her favorite place to dive. When not diving, Adrienne can be found exploring tide pools or with her nose in a book. @swimmerage
Ingrid (Allie) Cole is an undergraduate member of the class 2021, pursuing a degree in marine science with a minor in African studies. She works in the Rotjan lab on deep sea, open ocean, and coral reef fish larvae in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area on an ongoing 10-year project to determine how taxonomic assemblages change across ENSO cycles – check out her vlog about her summer 2019 fieldwork! This project is in collaboration with Jan Witting at SEA and the Llopiz Lab at WHOI. Fun facts about Allie: she spent a large part of her childhood living in Uganda and still goes back as often as she can to work with her parents. Allie is also an aerial artist and has been training since she was 9 years old in the art of trapeze, tightwire, lyra and many more! @123alliec
Alexa Dudek is a freshman at Boston University. As part of her project, Alexa is working with masters student Laura DiRoberts studying how the temperate coral Astrangia poculata takes up various forms of nitrogenShe also helps with other projects around the lab in her spare time. A fun fact about Alexa: She has been snorkeling since the age of three and has loved the ocean ever since. 
Justin Fogliasso is a junior studying Biology with a specialization in Ecology and Conservation Biology, and minoring in Earth and Environmental Science. Justin is currently researching wound healing in mixed-symbiosis Astrangia poculata, following up from previous Rotjan-lab Ph.D. student, Liz Burmester’s, research. In his free time, Justin enjoys hiking, cooking, and trying new coffee shops around Boston. @JustinFogliasso
Kelsie Garretson is an undergraduate in the class of 2021.  She is an Earth and Environmental Major (with a focus on Climactic Systems) with a minor in Marine Science. In the Rotjan lab, she is working on sorting phytoplankton samples from the Phoenix Island Protected Area.  She is the Public Relations Chair for BU’s co-ed Environmental Fraternity, Epsilon Eta.  She is also a member of CHAARG, a workout group on campus, and loves going to the gym and spending time in nature. @krebecca3
Cecelia (Cece) Gerstenbacher is an undergraduate student in the class of 2021, majoring in Biology, specializing in Ecology and Conservation Biology with a minor in Marine Sciences. She is currently volunteering with the photomosaics team to look at coral distribution in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area as part of the 100IslandsChallenge. Fun facts about Cecelia: She grew up between farmland and the ocean in South Jersey and has always been immersed in nature which inspired her to become involved in conservation. She is also a short sprinter on the BU Track and Field team and is almost always running when not doing schoolwork.
Livy Golini is an undergraduate student in the class of 2020, majoring in Marine Science and minoring in Spanish. She is currently working on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area plankton samples here in the lab and loves everything to do with the ocean. She’s not sure which marine animal is her favorite because there’s just too many to choose from … but she thinks it’s a harp seal – the pups are so fluffy! Fun fact: she doesn’t have a sense of smell, so working with fish is just meant to be. Livy is also a part of the Field Hockey team here at BU! @ScienceLivyG
lab bio pic Hayley Goss is an undergraduate student in the class 2019 majoring in Marine Science. Her honors thesis is focusing on herbivory in seagrass communities in Belize. She is looking at interspecific competition and preferential feeding of epibionts in Thalassia testudinum (and just published her first paper in Marine Pollution Bulletin). Last summer she also worked in the lab sorting plankton samples to better understand larval tuna dispersal in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.  Fun Fact: When not working in the lab, I enjoy skiing, scuba diving and sailing. @hayley_g7
Coretta Granberry is an undergraduate in the Class of 2021, pursing a degree in marine science and a minor in earth and environmental science. She is currently looking at coral photomosaics of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area as part of the 100IslandsChallenge. Fun facts from Coretta: she loves traveling and watching nature documentaries whenever she can. @Corettalee_xo 
Abigail Grassick is from St. Petersburg Florida, and is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023, majoring in biology with a specialization in cellular, molecular, and genetics. In the lab, she is a part of the PIPA plankton sorting team. She grew up loving the water and everything in it. When she’s not in class or in the lab, you can most likely find her cheering on Terriers MIH at Agganis Arena. Her other hobbies include hiking, kayaking, surfing, and anything else that gets her out into nature and the water.
IMG_3278 Lara Hakam is an undergraduate (junior) in the biology department. She is working on minors in marine science and GIS. She is currently working with the photomosaics team, under a current UROP award, to look at coral distribution in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area as part of the 100IslandsChallenge. She is a recent awardee of the NOAA Hollings Scholarship. Fun fact from Lara: When I am not working on photomosaics, I go bird watching and hiking.
Nicole Haftel is an undergraduate in the Class of 2020, majoring in public relations and minoring in marine science. Marine conservation is one of Nicole’s biggest passions and she is particularly interested in finding ways to reduce our use of plastics. Nicole is the genius behind our current lab photos, and she is also the director and producer of our first Rotjan Lab promo video! Fun facts about Nicole: She is a member of the all-female a cappella group, The Sweethearts. @NicoleHaftel
FullSizeRender (1) Jacob Jaskiel, class of 2019, is majoring in Marine Science and minoring in Environmental Analysis and Policy. He recently returned from the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, where he helped to collect the 2018 plankton samples (check out the blog on NatGeo Open Explorer!). In the lab, he works with plankton samples from PIPA in order to gather information that may inform future conservation efforts, in collaboration with Jan Witting at SEA. He also co-authored a recent paper on seagrass microplastics. Fun fact from Jacob: I am a huge outdoorsman and I love to kayak, fish, snorkel, camp, and pretty much anything else that allows me to be in nature. @RascalJaskiel
William Kim is an undergraduate student in the class of 2021 pursuing a degree in Marine Science and a minor in Environmental Analysis & Policy. He is currently working on sorting through plankton samples collected from the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). Fun Facts from Will: When I’m not in school or working, my favorite things to do are SCUBA dive, freedive, and pilot light aircraft. So far I’ve flown the Cessna 172, PA-28, and Cirrus SR-22.
Sarah Rosenthal is our remote Pacific lab member, living all the way in Hawaii! Sarah will be completing her master’s degree in Geographic Information Science and Technology from the University of Southern California in December of 2019. After sailing on two NOAA Okeanos Explorer cruises, the first of which mapped a part of the Phoenix Islands, her excitement for incorporating geospatial and data science with oceanography began to blossom. She currently is working with various institutions on mapping and GIS projects within the Pacific and the Phoenix Islands. Sarah holds project experience in spatial analysis, custom script tools, spatial databases and a has special passion for cartography. While she is especially enthusiastic about deep sea research, her broad research interests involve geostatistics and 3D modeling. She enjoys spending her free time away from computer screens by hiking, SCUBA diving and tending to her sourdough culture. @sarsrrosenthal
Greg Pelose is an undergraduate student in the class of 2020, majoring in Marine Science and Environmental Science. He is currently working on an Honors Thesis in the lab, analyzing coral samples that were collected in Belize with the end goal of quantifying variations in coral polyp structure. He joined the lab in 2017, starting his work with the photomosaics team, a group in the lab that analyzes coral distribution in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area as part of the 100IslandsChallenge. Fun Facts about Greg: Surfing and fishing are two of his lifelong passions; he has spent his entire life exploring marine environments and can not be too far away from them for an extended period of time. He is also a distance runner on the Cross Country/Track and Field team here at BU.
Student in lecture, General Chemistry 2, March 21, 2018. Jacob Taylor, class of 2019, is in the BU College of Arts and Sciences, pursuing a degree in Marine Science. Even though he is on a Pre-Medical track professionally, Jacob has always had a passion for ocean conservation from growing up exploring the stunning waterways of the San Francisco Bay. Jacob hopes to gain a complex understanding of coral ecology by working on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) project. He is also a lab diver extraordinaire and recently led the dives for the #Astrangia things roadtrip. :-)
Isabela Trumble is a marine science undergraduate student graduating in the class of 2020. She has been working on an energy budget for Astrangia poculata, along with masters student Caroline as well as taking on her own project studying Inter-polyp nitrogen exchange and connectivity in A. poculata. She’s also gotten very interested in the husbandry of our aquarium systems and can usually be found in the wet lab with very wet shoes. Fun facts from Isabela: When I’m not studying or in the lab I love to hang out with my dog Leia and cooking something new. In the future I hope to continue exploring my interest in coral physiology doing research and lots more field work.
Jack VanSchoick is an undergraduate student in the class of 2020, majoring in Biology and minoring in Marine Science. In the lab, he works with 3D coral photomosaics of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, helping to characterize coral growth, recruitment, and succession. Fun fact about Jack: When he’s not in the lab, he’s working as an EMT. He can play two and a half songs on the ukulele and his favorite marine organism is the cownose ray (Rhinoptera bonasus)


Lab alumni – Boston University

Elizabeth (Liz) Burmester, Ph.D., now a Restoration Scientist at the Billion Oyster Project

Burmester EM, Finnerty JR, Kaufman L, Rotjan RD. 2017. Temperature and symbiosis affect lesion recovery in experimentally wounded, facultative symbiotic temperate corals. Marine Ecology Progress Series 570: 87-99. 

Burmester, E., A. Breef-Pilz, N. Lawrence, L. Kaufman, J. Finnerty, and R. Rotjan. 2018. The impact of autotrophic versus heterotrophic nutritional pathways on colony health and wound recovery in corals. Ecology and Evolution 00:1-12.

Photo of Dr. Liz Burmester by Jackie Ricciardi for Boston University Photography

Lukas DeFilippo, B.S. Boston University, now a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington

DeFilippo, L., EM Burmester, L Kaufman, and RD Rotjan. 2016. Patterns of surface lesion recovery in the northern star coral, Astrangia poculata. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 481: 15-24 

Sara Edquist, B.S. Boston University, now a Ph.D. student at the University of New Hampshire

Edquist, SK and RD Rotjan. 2012. Testing vacancy chain predictions in Pagurus longicarpus hermit crabs: Does ecological gain and behavioral motivation match environmental context? Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 430: 78-86

Lab alumni – New England Aquarium

Allison Kerwin, M.S., Ph.D., now a postdoc at Penn State University

Sharp, K.H., Z.A. Pratte, A.H. Kerwin, R.D. Rotjan, and F.J. Stewart. 2017. Seasonal shifts in taxonomic diversity of the microbiome in the temperate coral Astrangia poculata. Microbiome 5(120): 1-14

Dimond, JL, AH Kerwin, RD Rotjan, K Sharp, FJ Stewart, and DJ Thornhill. 2013. A simple temperature-based model predicts the upper latitudinal limit of the temperate coral Astrangia poculata. Coral Reefs 32(2): 401-409 

Sarah Abboud, M.S., now at UC Merced

Tania Lemos-Eskin, M.S., now at Brandeis University


Recent undergraduate lab alumni – Boston University