Graduate Students

Caitlin Casar is a fourth-year PhD candidate interested in deep subsurface microbial ecology and its applications to astrobiology. She is currently exploring microbial life living in fracture fluids as deep as 4,850 feet at the Deep Mine Microbial Observatory (DeMMO) at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota. This NESSF funded project focuses on characterization of mineral-hosted biofilm communities through field and laboratory-based cultivation experiments. In her spare time she enjoys coding, graphic design, and entertaining her two cats (Creme Fraiche and Neko). 

Matt Selensky is a graduate student currently researching the geomicrobiology of lava tube cave systems. As part of a NASA-led initiative to study lava tubes as potential havens for life on Mars, he is working to characterize the isotopic and lipid biomarkers of the cave microbial communities throughout Lava Beds National Monument, CA. He also hopes to understand the nutrient cycling present in such caves by performing isotopic labeling experiments in culture. Outside of the lab, Matt loves drawing, checking out concerts around Chicago, and running!

Niloufar Sarvian is a second year Ph.D. student in the Earth and Planetary Sciences department studying the causative mechanisms behind the Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth. She uses radiogenic and stable strontium isotopes to investigate the levers of the carbon cycle and the factors that contributed to a worldwide glaciation event. Her work with Maggie involves studying Ca and Sr fractionation in microbially precipitated carbonate rocks. In her spare time, Nilou enjoys playing sports, hanging with pups and learning how to play bass guitar.

Undergraduate Students

Sohyun Lee is a second-year undergraduate student studying earth sciences and environmental policy & culture. Her current research project examines microbial lipids in lava tubes and has possible applications to the search for life on Mars. In her free time, she likes to play the piano and take walks along the lake.

Hannah Dion-Kirschner will graduate in December and work in the lab as a “pre-doc” until she leaves us to go off to graduate school. She is interested in using organic geochemistry and geobiology to understand Phanerozoic paleoclimate. She is currently working to answer questions about Greenland’s Holocene climate using compound-specific isotopes of plant biomarkers. When she’s not in the lab or practicing her instrument, Hannah loves to go swing and blues dancing.

Post Doctoral Scholars

Dr. Fabrizio Sabba –  

Affiliated Staff

Dr. Andrew Masterson –  Research associate and IRMS lab manager-interested in sulfur isotope and marine biogeochemistry, mass-spectrometry, continuous flow method development, and precision baking.


Dr. Lily Momper is a new post doc working on deep subsurface biosphere questions. One of the major obstacles to a clearer understanding of the earliest history of life on Earth is uncertainty in the timing of major biological events. Identifying the births and deaths of major gene pathways will help place those events in context of relevant geochemical events in Earth history, and conversely help to constrain the timing of those events. She uses a combination of culturing, bioinformatics and lipidomics to understand how microorganisms and geochemical conditions have co-evolved through Earth history.

Jamie McFarlin is a 4th-year PhD candidate dual-advised by Maggie Osburn and Yarrow Axford. She works on reconstructing Quaternary interglacial climate in Greenland from lake records using coupled proxies, in particular chironomid-inferred temperature and compound-specific hydrogen isotopes. Her current focuses include an Eemian temperature and hydroclimate record in northwest Greenland and developing calibration data for modern leaf waxes along the western coast of Greenland. She enjoys sleeping at high latitudes in an orange tent during the summer, distance running, and bluegrass music.

Dana Johnston –  Former Undergraduate, interested in microbial ecology, environmental geochemistry, and dangerous field work. Dana is currently in Paraguay waiting out a sweltering summer.

Jordan Todes – is a senior working with myself and Brad Sageman. He is interested in biomarkers and compound-specific isotope measurements across the Cretaceous Ocean Anoxic Event 2.