Evaluation Panel

  • Ben Donovan, PhD

    Ben Donovan, PhD

    Post-Doctoral Fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD

    Ben Donovan is a post-doctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, USA. In graduate school, he used advanced microscopy to visualize individual proteins interacting with DNA. This work reframed our understanding of how higher-order DNA structure regulates protein binding and subsequent gene expression. He is currently applying these approaches to visualize assembly of massive molecular complexes in living cells. Science is a team effort and Ben is lucky to work with people from all over the world at all phases of their careers.

  • Shastri Doorgah

    Shastri Doorgah

    Science Teacher, Le Bocage International School, Mauritius

    Shastri Doorgah has a Masters in Financial Management from Heriot-Watt University, Postgraduate Diploma in International Education from University of Bath and a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry from the University of Mauritius. His childhood interests in sciences and the functioning of the world eventually guided him towards a teaching career, gaining over 9 years of teaching in an International Education setting and being an IB Educator ever since. Shastri believes in inspiring students with a scientific mind, no matter where their future leads them, so that they can independently think for themselves and appreciate the functioning of the world around them. One of his happiest moments was to have his student, Amber Kwok, the Global Winner of 2021 nominating him as the teacher who inspired her the most. As a teacher, Shastri acknowledges that he is only a guide who can only contribute a small part to the minds of hundreds of students that come across him. When he is not teaching secondary school students, Shastri adopts multiple roles through the International Baccalaureate Organisation and through the Council of International Schools where he conducts workshops or visits various schools as they aim to nurture holistic students around the world.

  • Dianne M. Dunn

    Dianne M. Dunn

    Science Teacher (Human Anatomy and Physiology), Blue Valley High School, Kansas

    Dianne M. Dunn has a bachelor’s degree in biology and Life Sciences, and master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction both from the University of Kansas. As an educator in the secondary classroom, she has taught for 32 years, primarily in Overland Park, Kansas and as well as Mesa, Arizona, with an endeavor to encourage and inspire student interest in the field of life sciences. Whether the topic was biology, field biology, zoology or human anatomy, her goal has been to build student confidence and cultivate problem solving skills that help to build deeper understandings of science in their everyday lives.

  • Fun Man Fung, PhD

    Fun Man Fung, PhD

    Chemistry Instructor, National University of Singapore

    Fun Man Fung is a Chemistry educator at the National University of Singapore (NUS), well-known for his dedication to enhancing science education through the integration of digital tools. Fun Man earned his PhD from NUS and is the lead editor of two books. The first, titled "10 Things You Must Know About the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO)," published by World Scientific, serves as a comprehensive guide to this competition. The second, "Technology-Enabled Blended Learning Experiences for Chemistry Education and Outreach," published by Elsevier, serves as a valuable resource for educators and researchers seeking to incorporate technology into chemistry education and its impact on fostering engaging learning experiences.

  • Francesca Gale

    Francesca Gale

    Education and Learning Manager, Wellcome Connecting Science, Cambridgeshire, UK

    Francesca Gale is the Education and Learning Manager for Wellcome Connecting Science based at the Wellcome Genome Campus – home of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the EMBL-EBI (European Bioinformatics Institute). Responsible for the education programme on and off campus, she works alongside scientists to develop accessible and engaging activities for students of all ages and leads professional development courses on contemporary genomics for science teachers. She read Biological Sciences at Exeter University and graduated from the University of the West of England, Bristol with an MSc in Science Communication. Francesca is an experienced and enthusiastic communicator who loves to empower young people from all backgrounds to be curious and realise their potential through the discovery of life sciences and the natural world.

  • Helmuth Gehart, PhD

    Helmuth Gehart, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Institute of Molecular Health Sciences, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

    Helmuth Gehart was born in Vienna, Austria and showed a keen interest in understanding the world around him. From an early age, he was deeply fascinated with the complex machinery that is our body. Therefore, he studied molecular biology at the University of Vienna. Subsequently, he moved to Switzerland, where he received his PhD from ETH Zurich. During his PhD training with Romeo Ricci, Helmuth studied the mechanisms behind type 2 diabetes and the complex cellular checkpoints that maintain balance to prevent disease. Thereafter, Helmuth aimed to combine his knowledge of signaling and metabolism with the fascinating field of stem-cell biology. Thus, he joined the group of Hans Clevers in Utrecht, Netherlands, where he investigated adult tissue stem cells in the liver and intestine and their use in clinical research and regenerative medicine. Since 2020, Helmuth leads his own research group at ETH Zurich, where he studies the dynamic interactions of stem cells and cancer cells.

  • Heather Johnson

    Heather Johnson

    Academic Coach at Seaside High School, Seaside, California

    Heather Johnson explored her passion for science throughout her childhood and her longing to know more about the depths of the oceans took her to Monterey Bay, California where she earned her degree in Earth Systems Science and Policy from California State University Monterey Bay. Working as a research assistant and naturalist after her college career enhanced her ability to describe and interpret the natural world and led her to pursue teaching. In the classroom Heather works to build students’ knowledge, curiosity, and confidence so that they leave her classroom having the skills to be environmental stewards and leaders. Jeffery Chen, winner of the 2020 Breakthrough Junior Challenge, is an example of one of her students who is leaving high school with the skills it takes to be a leader in the science field.

  • Lataisia C. Jones, PhD

    Lataisia C. Jones, PhD

    Scientific Review Officer, NIH (NINDS)

    Lataisia C. Jones earned her Bachelors and Masters in Science from Virginia State University. She was the first African American to earn a PhD from the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Florida State University. After thirteen years of experience as a scientist, Lataisia uses her background in cellular and molecular biology, biomedical science and neuroscience research to teach kids science through fun hands-on activities via YouTube (Hey Dr. Tay), live science shows, speaking engagements and service activities within the community. She serves as an AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador, and recently starred on a CBS show called Mission Unstoppable, WUSA9 Great Day Washington, and WTOP Radio Station. A statue honoring Lataisia and the other AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors are featured in Dallas' NorthPark Center as a tribute to female STEM leaders. Lataisia recently decided to leave the lab life to pursue more of her passion-filled initiatives through her new career and her ongoing work within the community.

  • Markey McNutt, MD, PhD

    Markey McNutt, MD, PhD

    Assistant Professor, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX

    Markey McNutt received his MD and PhD degrees from UT Southwestern Medical Center where he studied the molecular mechanisms that control cholesterol levels in humans. After graduating, he continued his clinical training completing a residency in internal medicine and fellowship in endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. In fellowship, he worked in the laboratory of Helen Hobbs trying to better understand the metabolism of fatty acids. Markey returned to training to complete a residency in clinical genetics before joining the faculty of UT Southwestern as an assistant professor of genetics and metabolism. He splits his efforts between seeing patients in the clinic, performing research into rare and undiagnosed genetic diseases, and leading educational activities for medical students, graduate students, and medical residents and fellows.

  • Pramila Menon

    Pramila Menon

    Senior School Coordinator and High School Teacher of Biology, National Public School Koramangala, Bangalore, India

    Pramila Menon has a Masters degree in Botany and a Bachelor degree in Education. She has also completed a Proficiency Course in Biotechnology from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. A childhood interest in becoming a teacher led Pramila to follow that noble path and gain over 25 years of experience in the classroom. In her career, Pramila has guided and motivated students to reach beyond themselves and become outstanding achievers. Under her guidance through the years, her students have gathered several laurels to their credit. Of the many, the most rewarding ones for her as a teacher and mentor are the Brain Bee 2016 and 2019 editions where her students have been the Regional Level winners and the prestigious Breakthrough Challenge, 2018, where Samay Godika, the Global Winner named her as the teacher who inspired him the most. She strongly believes that a teacher’s wealth of experience can enrich the entire teaching community and hence when she is not teaching, Pramila, a resource person under CBSE Board, conducts workshops for teachers working in CBSE schools.

  • Paola Moreno-Roman

    Paola Moreno-Roman, PhD

    Biology Professor, Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University, Peru
    Strategic Partnerships Consultant, Foldscope Instruments
    Co-Founder – Yachaq Warmi

    Paola Moreno-Roman was born and raised in Peru. Paola majored in Biology at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (Peru), where she researched tuberculosis at the Sheen and Zimic lab. During her last year in college, Paola did a four-month research internship at the Lusk lab at Yale University through the REPU (Research Experience for Peruvian Undergraduates) program. In 2013, Paola moved to the US for her doctoral studies. Paola obtained her doctoral degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology at Stanford University. Paola sought to understand the regulatory programs that guide adult intestinal stem cells through the differentiation process in the common fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Paola’s research helps us understand how differentiation is regulated in the intestines of vertebrates, including humans, and sheds light on how improper differentiation can lead to disease. Furthermore, Paola is very involved in initiatives to support and empower women in STEM and future female leaders in STEM both in the United States and in her home country.

  • Ushma S. Neill, PhD

    Ushma S. Neill, PhD

    Vice President, Scientific Education and Training, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY

    Ushma S. Neill obtained her PhD in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University studying pulmonary mechanics and used a Marshall Sherfield Postdoctoral Fellowship to do a postdoctoral fellowship at Imperial College. After 2 years as an editor at Nature Medicine, she joined the Journal of Clinical Investigation as Executive Editor. In May 2012, Ushma became the Chief of Staff to the President and CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In February 2016, Ushma took on the educational mission of Memorial Sloan Kettering as VP, Scientific Education and Training. While she has had these roles at MSK, she has retained the position of Editor-at-Large for the JCI. In her continued role at the JCI, she has served as chief interviewer in over 70 video interviews for their series, Conversations with Giants in Medicine.

  • Richard Nestoff

    Richard Nestoff

    Physics Instructor, North Royalton High School, North Royalton, Ohio

    Rick Nestoff received a BS degree in mechanical engineering at The Ohio State University and an MS degree in mechanical engineering at Clemson University. As a project engineer at Caterpillar Industrial, he managed the installation of factory automation systems in the United States and in Spain. He received a patent for the automated system installed at Chrysler’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant. After eight years of extensive travel, Rick attended John Carroll University to become certified to teach mathematics and physics. Currently teaching physics and AP Physics 2 at North Royalton High School, Rick shares his enthusiasm for engineering by encouraging student participation in technical competitions. He has advised competitive student teams in the Case Western Reserve University Robotics competition, CWRU Bridge Building Competition, West Point Bridge Competition, Marine Advanced Technology Education Underwater Robotics Competition, and FIRST Robotics Competition. For fourteen summers, Rick taught Introduction to Robotics at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth in California, Maryland and Hong Kong. Ryan Chester, a student in Rick’s AP Physics class, won the initial Breakthrough Junior Challenge and named Rick as an inspirational teacher.

  • Luke Peedell

    Luke Peedell

    Head of Physics, Markham College, Lima, Peru

    As a child Luke Peedell always had a fascination with science and especially the ocean. He received a BSc degree in ocean science at Plymouth University where he focused on oceanography and marine chemistry. As a keen surfer, skateboarder and hiker, he decided to travel following these passions where he often came into contact with young people. These interactions led him to begin working for an educational charity and as a youth worker, experiences that encouraged him to pursue a teaching career. In the classroom he tries to nurture the same fascination he felt as a child in his students and develop their passion for science and learning. The 2016 Junior Breakthrough winner, Antonella Masini, was a student Luke taught and mentored.

  • Alia Qatarneh

    Alia Qatarneh

    Student in the Doctor of Education Leadership Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

    Alia Qatarneh is a doctoral student in the Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She was the former director of the Massachusetts Amgen Biotech Experience Program at Harvard University. She has dedicated the last eleven years to making sustainable and impactful changes to science and science education while challenging the unwritten narrative that science isn't for everyone. Her passion for equity and interdisciplinary learning and teaching has led her to explore laboratory research, curriculum design, community outreach, and online educational platform development. She holds a Master's degree in biotechnology, for which her research was awarded the Dean’s Prize for Outstanding Thesis in Biotechnology, as well as a Master's degree in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

  • Victoria Rafalski, PhD

    Victoria Rafalski, PhD

    Principal Research Scientist at Abbvie, Cambridge, MA

    Victoria Rafalski is a Principal Research Scientist at Abbvie where she is conducting Parkinson's Disease discovery research. She obtained her PhD in Neuroscience at Stanford University where she studied how lifespan-regulating proteins affect neural stem cell aging. During her postdoctoral training at the Gladstone Institutes, Victoria investigated the role of microglia in brain health and disease using in vivo two-photon imaging. In addition to serving on the Evaluation Panel, Victoria has supported and celebrated the budding generation of scientists, especially women and underrepresented minorities, through one-on-one mentorship, reading groups, and STEM workshops.

  • Maxime Rousseaux, PhD

    Maxime Rousseaux, PhD

    Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada

    Max Rousseaux received a BSc degree in biochemistry from the University of Ottawa in 2007. He then continued with graduate studies in neuroscience under David S. Park, also at the University of Ottawa, where his research principally focused on elucidating mechanisms of neurodegeneration in mouse models of Parkinson’s disease. During his time as a graduate student, Max pursued his passion for outreach by visiting communities in northern Canada and in Tanzania to promote scientific literacy by demonstrating scientific concepts using hands-on experiments. In 2012, Max moved to the United States for a Canadian Institutes of Health Research postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Huda Zoghbi at Baylor College of Medicine. There his research consisted of identifying for novel regulators of α-synuclein levels using forward genetic screens to gain novel therapeutic entry points for Parkinson’s disease. Since returning to Canada in early 2018, his research goals have been focused on how protein mislocalization drives neurodegeneration in diseases such as Parkinson’s and ALS. In his spare time, Max remains committed to promoting scientific literacy through various teaching mechanisms.

  • Natalia Simonenko

    Natalia Simonenko

    Co-Founder and Chair, Movavi and Movavi IT School, Moscow, Russia

    Natalia Simonenko co-founded Movavi in 2004 and led this business through 2012. Today Movavi is 200-employee, privately-held, consumer software company with a portfolio of more than 30 multimedia products used by millions of customers in 150+ countries. She stepped down from day-to-day operations of Movavi in 2012 to become a chair and focused on philanthropic projects in the field of STEM. Natalia co-founded and leads Movavi IT School, with a mission to provide Siberian kids and teenagers aged 6-16 with a high-quality STEM and robotics education in after-school and summer camp settings. Her new project is a full time privately owned and managed science and mathematics focused K-12 School in Novosibirsk, Russia should open its doors for the first students in 2018. Natalia graduated from Novosibirsk State University with the Honors Bachelor of Science degree in economics and law and completed joint executive MBA program at London Business School and Columbia Business School.

  • Angela Tabiri, PhD

    Angela Tabiri, PhD

    Academic Manager and Research Associate, African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Ghana

    Growing up in Accra, Ghana, Angela Tabiri enjoyed playing outdoors with friends and being creative. This shaped her in the sense that writing proofs for theorems involves creativity. In June 2019, she graduated from the University of Glasgow with a PhD in Mathematics. Angela is currently an AIMS-Google AI postdoctoral fellow at AIMS-Ghana. She organizes Science Slam Ghana, a science communication event where researchers present their research to a lay audience in fun and engaging ways. Angela is the founder of Femafricmaths, a non-governmental organization that promotes female African mathematicians. She interviews mathsqueens on the Femafricmaths YouTube channel to inspire young people about the different career options available when you study mathematics. At AIMS Ghana, she is the lead for the Girls in Mathematical Sciences Program (GMSP). The GMSP nurtures the talents of secondary school girls from Ghana to unlock their potential in the mathematical sciences.

  • Jake Taylor, PhD

    Jake Taylor, PhD

    Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Oxford

    Jake Taylor is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford where he is studying the atmospheres of planets that orbit different stars in our galaxy, commonly known as exoplanets. His main focus is to understand what the atmospheres contain (Is there water? What is the temperature like? What are the clouds made of?) and how the planets formed. By studying these properties of these exoplanets, we will be able to put the planets in our solar system into context within the galaxy. Jake has been involved with the science development for various space telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope, Ariel and Twinkle. Jake is a huge advocate for LGBT+ rights and LGBT+ inclusion in STEM, he is currently a trustee for the charity Pride in STEM.

  • Ulrich Thiel, PhD

    Ulrich Thiel, PhD

    Professor of Algebra, University of Kaiserslautern, Germany

    Ulrich Thiel is a professor at the University of Kaiserslautern, specializing in a subject called representation theory, which is, broadly speaking, the study of symmetries and how they arise in all sorts of objects. He focuses on certain aspects on the pure and algebraic side of this subject, and also develops computer programs to approach some of the theoretical questions. Ulrich grew up surrounded by oscilloscopes and antennas, so it was almost unavoidable to be interested in engineering, physics, and computer science. Only later, a few years away from finishing school, he discovered the beauty of pure mathematics and found in it his native language, quoting John von Neumann: “If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.” He is fascinated by the capabilities of computers and is an active amateur radio operator enjoying decoding signals way below the noise level.

  • Tara Tracy, PhD

    Tara Tracy, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Novato, CA

    Tara Tracy is an Assistant Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Her laboratory investigates the molecular mechanisms in neurons that lead to memory loss in Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Her laboratory is funded by the National Institute on Aging. She received her PhD from the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley and completed her postdoctoral studies at the Gladstone Institutes. Tara is passionate about increasing diversity in scientific research and mentoring the next generation of scientists.

  • Vivian U, PhD

    Vivian U, PhD

    Assistant Astronomer, University of California, Irvine, CA

    Vivian U is an extragalactic observational astronomer studying supermassive black holes and galaxy evolution. She received her Bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology in 2006, and her PhD in astronomy from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2012. She got involved in the Thirty Meter Telescope project as a TMT postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and subsequently became a University of California Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow. She has now joined the University of California, Irvine as an assistant research astronomer, where she serves as the Principal Investigator for a NASA astrophysics data analysis project and for a James Webb Space Telescope Cycle 1 observing program. Vivian is passionate about mentoring students and postdocs on their academic path and making the astronomy community equitable and inclusive to all.

  • Kathy Vladicka

    Kathy Vladicka

    Math and Science Teacher at Fort McMurray Public School District, Alberta, Canada

    Kathy Vladicka has taught junior high and high school math and science courses in Fort McMurray for 15 years, and her student Maryam Tsegaye won the 2020 Breakthrough Junior Challenge.

  • Ben Weiner

    Ben Weiner

    Biology, Physics, and Computer Sciences Student, University of Minnesota

    Ben Weiner is a student at the University of Minnesota studying molecular biology, physics, and computer science. Outside of the classroom he does research in a lab in UMN's biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics department studying viral enzyme kinematics in an attempt to discover various viral inhibitors that could be used in medical treatments. He has also worked as a data science contractor for Medtronic Diabetes to build robust solutions to help patients with diabetes manage their health. He volunteers with the Minnesota Academy of Science to help put on the annual Minnesota Science Bowls for Middle and High School students – a program that he participated in as both a player and a coach.

  • Jeff Wiener, PhD

    Jeff Wiener, PhD

    Teacher Programmes Manager, CERN, Geneva, Switzerland

    Jeff Wiener is a staff scientist at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, managing all education programmes for in-service high-school science teachers from all around the world. Jeff received his PhD in physics from the University of Vienna, and he holds an Executive Master in International Relations degree from the Geneva School of Diplomacy. In the past, Jeff worked as a high-school physics teacher in Vienna, Austria, and he frequently volunteered at an orphanage in Siem Reap, Cambodia. In addition, Jeff is a highly active public speaker and science communicator, who has introduced thousands of students and teachers to the fascinating world of high-energy physics.

  • Dagnia Zeidlickis

    Dagnia Zeidlickis

    Vice President, Communications, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), Cold Spring Harbor, NY

    Dagnia Zeidlickis is passionate about sharing the wonders of life science with public audiences. She leads a team that leverages all forms of media available to tell stories about the societal relevance of CSHL’s research discoveries and innovative approaches to science education. With a bachelor’s and master’s from the Johns Hopkins University in economics and international relations, she has previously worked in areas ranging from government relations, trade and investment policy, corporate relocation and public relations. But Dagnia found her true calling thanks to the help of the 1100 CSHL faculty, employees and students. Their work inspired her conviction that the public needs to know more about biology and genetics. Why? So that everyone can make informed decisions about personal and societal issues like healthcare, food security, energy sources, the environment and even the criminal justice system! Science matters to each of us every day, in every way and that’s why Dagnia is proud to be part of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge.