April 10th, 2017

Meet the Mentors - 2017

mentors 2017
The Genes in Space Team is comprised of many outstanding and passionate individuals. The mentors for the 2017 US contest are no exception. Meet this year's all star mentoring team: 

Holly Christensen 
Graduate Student, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, MIT 

I currently study histone modifications in male germ cells. I have always known I wanted to go into biology, however, it wasn't until I was in middle school that I became interested in genetics and molecular biology. My interest in genetics stemmed from my personal desire to understand how my sister and I could be genetically related, but still very different in both appearance and personality!" 

"This will be my third year as a Genes in Space mentor. I decided to mentor a Genes in Space finalist again because I greatly enjoyed mentoring my finalists! As an undergraduate research assistant, I had both a great graduate student mentor and a wonderful faculty mentor, who always took the time to answer my questions, help me interpret my results, and give me advice. Having benefited enormously from great mentoring, I knew that I wanted to be that type of mentor for someone else. I'm looking forward to mentoring a new finalist this year!”


Kutay Deniz Atabay
Graduate Student, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, MIT  

"I am currently studying self-organization during regeneration in the nervous system and I am generally interested in neurodevelopment, neurogenetics and space life sciences."

"This is my third year as a mentor for Genes in Space. Life Science experiments aboard the International Space Station provide unique insights into how biological systems function and respond to their environments. The knowledge we gain from these experiments apply to many different levels of complexity from bacterial gene expression regulation to systemic changes in the human nervous system. The Genes in Space Team makes it possible for us to become a part of this wonderful journey that is advancing our horizons in so many ways. Genes in Space Team is also singular in the way that it introduces a new technology to space station while engaging students, teachers, and mentors to ask and provide answers to actual space life science questions. Being a part of the team is a distinct privilege, allowing us to contribute, to inspire and to further mankind’s journey beyond the solar system."


Claudia Schafer, PhD
Research Scientist, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, MIT

“I am a cancer researcher. My research is aimed at determining cellular processes and environmental effects that lead to lung cancer progression and metastasis. I was always very curious as a kid about my surroundings and about how things work. I never actively decided to become a scientist but I always followed what I love to do and that led me here."

"Previously I was a mentor for the Genes in Space UAE contest. Space science was always very exciting to me. The fascinating thing about research in space is for me especially that we learn how different things behave in microgravity. My advice to all GiS participants, be creative, think big and have fun!”


John Hatch
Graduate Student in Developmental and Regenerative Biology, Harvard Stem Cell Institute

"I study the molecular processes that build neural circuits in the developing brain. Growing up, I was always fascinated by how things work, but I began seriously considering a career in science during a summer internship at the National Institutes of Health while I was in high school- I'll never forget the way it felt the first time I saw a living brain light up during a functional MRI scan. Later experiences during my undergraduate research at the University of Virginia and at the NIH after college have shaped my interests, motivating me to study the mechanisms that make a single cell grow and form an entire complex organism."

"The Genes in Space program is a fantastic opportunity for young scientists to learn how to design experiments and contribute groundbreaking knowledge to the scientific community. This would be a great competition if it "only" took place on Earth- but these students will work on the very young field of space biology, where so little is known and so much can be learned! To all the participants, I only encourage you to propose a topic that really excites you. Your enthusiasm and passion will always be the best driving force behind successful science."


Kiana Mohajeri
Graduate Student, Center for Genomic Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

"I'm currently a 2nd-year PhD student researcher. My research is focused on understanding how large-scale chromosomal rearrangements change DNA compaction in the nucleus and drive neurodevelopmental disorders. I first became interested in genetics when I took my first biology class in high school. I love being a scientist because it's a lifelong career of learning and contributing to knowledge. I find the study of genetics fascinating because it provides a means both to look back and understand our history as humans but also lean forward and solve puzzles related to health and disease."

"Pioneering studies of genetics in space opens up the exciting potential to test phenomenon we observe to be true on earth in a new environment. I very much look forward to working with GiS participants and encourage you all to ask lots of questions, read the judging criteria, and seek out ideas you think are especially important to investigate."