Who we are

Dr. Randi Rotjan (she/her/hers) is a Research Associate Professor and a Senior Lecturer 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 lead scientist for the Blue Nature Alliance, which is a global partnership to catalyze large-scale ocean conservation. She is also the co-Chief Scientist of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) Conservation Trust. 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. She lives in the Boston area with her two sweet children, awesome husband, and a yard full of native plants. @RandiRotjan 
Dr. Steve Auscavitch (he/him/his) is a postdoctoral researcher in the Rotjan Lab. His research broadly seeks to understand ecological patterns and processes in deep-water coral ecosystems, particularly on seamounts. His current project in the lab seeks to identify and describe protected deep-water coral biodiversity, as well as patterns in phylogenetic community structure, in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and surrounding waters. His work leverages data collected from remotely operated vehicles with existing collection resources present in museum archives. Steve is also an active member of the Corp of Exploration on the E/V Nautilus where he has contributed as science lead and science data manager on several cruises since 2014. He received his BS in Marine Science from the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, his MS in Marine Biology at the University of Maine, and PhD in Biology from Temple University. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveAuscavitch and via his personal website.
Dr. Max Helmberger (he/him/his) is a postdoctoral researcher in the Rotjan Lab and lecturer in the Biology Department. Originally a soil ecologist studying belowground biological control before moving into soil invertebrate interactions with microplastics, his current project is to investigate microplastic contamination of deepwater coral samples collected from the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.Max also designs educational board games. He received his BS in Biology from University of Minnesota Duluth, MS in Entomology from Cornell University, and PhD in Entomology from Michigan State University. You can follow him on Twitter @maxwellidae.
Dr. Anna Gauthier (she/her/hers) is a recent PhD who worked jointly between the Rotjan Lab and the Kagan Lab (Harvard Medical School, Department of Virology), and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute. She recently was aboard the R/V Falkor to collect deep sea microbes for her dissertation work. Come back to learn more about Anna. :-)  @RatherLargeNerd
Brian RC Kennedy (he/him/his) is a fifth year PhD candidate 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    Google Scholar
Jacob Jaskiel (he/him/his) is a 3rd year PhD student studying early life history and population dynamics of tropical Pacific tunas in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). He graduated from BU (’19) majoring in Marine Science and minoring in Environmental Analysis and Policy. Jacob travelled to PIPA in 2018, where he helped the crew collect the oceanographic data and plankton samples that we analyze in the lab (check out the blog on NatGeo Open Explorer!). In the lab, he works with the ichthyoplankton 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     Google Scholar
Caroline Fleming (she/her/hers) is a 3rd year PhD candidate and an #NSFGRFP Award Winner. 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
Brenna Stallings (she/her/hers) is a second-year masters student. She majored in Biology with a minor in marine science at BU. 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.
Peter Gawne (he/him/his) 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.
Grace Beery (she/her/hers) – come back to learn more about Grace!
Erin Dracup (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023 majoring in Health Science with a minor in Marine Science. As part of the Rotjan Lab, Erin is working with Justin Fogliasso to research wound healing in mixed-symbiosis Astrangia poculata. Fun facts about Erin: She grew up in Ithaca, New York and got PADI scuba certified in Cayuga Lake! When not in the lab, she loves to run along the Charles River and explore Boston with friends!
Alexa Dudek (she/her/hers) is a sophomore 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. 
Giuliana (Giuls) Fillion (she/hers) is an undergraduate student from Massachusetts in the class of 2022 at Boston University. She is majoring in earth and environmental science with a minor in marine science. During the 2021 BU Marine Program, Giuls has developed an interest in marine ecology and conservation.
Justin Fogliasso (he/him/his) is a senior 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
Delaney Foster (she/hers/her) is a member of the class of 2025 and majoring in Marine Science.
She is originally from Stuart, Florida, and is loving the colder weather. In Rotjan’s lab, she works on the PIPA sorting team. Outside of the lab, Delaney dedicates time to conservation through BU’s Environmental Affairs Department, the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, and BU Cleantech Club, to name a few. A fun fact is that she is currently learning Arabic!
Abigail Grassick (she/her/hers) is from St. Petersburg Florida, and is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023, majoring in biology with a specialization in ecology and conservation with a minor in marine science. She is a part of the PIPA plankton sorting team and is interested in the trophic interactions of planktonic organisms. When she’s not in the lab, she can be found playing on BU’s water polo team or spending time enjoying the outdoors.
Sunmin (Sunny) Kim (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023, majoring in Biology and minoring in Marine Science. She is particularly interested in global change and how it affects the ecology of various organisms. She is a member of the PIPIA plankton sorting team in the Rotjan lab and loves to cook in her free time.
Ian Kwit (He, Him, His) is an undergraduate student of the class of 2023, majoring in Marine Science and minoring in Mandarin Chinese. He is a part of the photomosaics team, working to monitor and record the changes in coral growth within the reefs of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Ian also assists the Coral Husbandry team in taking care of the polyps of Astrangia poculata kept within the lab. Ian is a member of the BU running club. When he isn’t in class, you can usually find him running along the Charles River or in the BU Library enjoying the quiet and calm atmosphere.
Deeya Modhwadiya (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023 majoring in biology and psychology. In the lab, she is working on the photomosaic project to record changes of coral cover in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). When she is not in class or lab, you can find Deeya walking along the Esplanade or taking pictures of the amazing views in Boston. Some other hobbies are hiking, playing tennis, and watching TV.
Itasca Motter (she/her/hers) is a third year undergraduate student in the Rotjan lab. She is a Marine Science major at Boston University with a minor in Environmental Science, and she is working on the Astrangia poculata energy budget project alongside Caroline Fleming. She grew up on the coast of Southern California, where she first discovered her passion for any and all things related to the ocean. Fun facts about Itasca: she has been to 28 different countries at her current age of 20, she grew up speaking both English and Spanish fluently, and her favorite sea animal is the chambered nautilus!
Grace Newsom (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate in the class of 2023, majoring in Biology with a specialization in Ecology and Conservation minoring in Environmental Analysis and Policy. She is currently a member of the PIPA plankton sorting team in the Rotjan Lab.  When she’s not in the lab, Grace enjoys being creative through journaling, sewing, crocheting, and playing ukulele.
Gabriella Villani (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student from central Massachusetts in the class of 2024 at Boston University. She is majoring in biology with a specialization in ecology and conservation and a minor in marine science. She is a member of the PIPA plankton sorting team in the Rotjan lab and loves competition, whether it be Mario Kart or soccer.
Jacqueline (JC) Wihardja (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023, majoring in Biology with a specialization in Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, and Genetics, and minoring in Marine Science and the Core. In the lab, JC works on sorting plankton samples from PIPA. Fun fact: she has a pet hedgehog, and in her spare time, likes to knit teeny tiny scarves and hats for him.
Chenyang Wu (he/him/his) is an undergraduate in the class of 2024, majoring in Conservation Biology. In the lab, he is currently a member of the PIPA Plankton team. He’s fascinated by the organisms that lurk in deep sea biomes and what’s to be uncovered in the future. Outside of the lab, he likes to play badminton, guitar, and experiment with cooking new dishes.
Calvin Yu (he/him/his) is an undergraduate student in the class of 2023, majoring in Conservation Biology and minoring in Marine Science. In the lab, Calvin spends his day disentangling plankton from samples collected in PIPA and feeding coral. Enamored with the ocean and its denizens, Calvin is right at home there. While he’s out of the lab, Calvin enjoys wandering the streets of the city to find new places to eat.
Nina Zhao (they/them) is an undergraduate in the class of 2024, majoring in Conservation Biology and minoring in Anthropology! Ae is part of the Rotjan Lab husbandry team. Nina enjoys learning about the complex world ae lives in, whether that be through quantitative or qualitative lenses. In aer spare time, ae enjoys dancing, “music-ing”, and learning more about birds.

Recent lab alumni – Boston University


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.

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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