Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Dr. Ruth Richardson 

I am an associate professor with a background in chemical engineering (BS) and environmental engineering (PhD).  My general research interests are in understanding the behavior and activities of microorganisms in complex communities – and using molecular biological tools to explore these communities.  The systems my lab group studies are dechlorinating communities, biofuels, and wastewater bioreactors.  In Ithaca, I also spend some time playing sports and I enjoy a wide range of music and dance.

Postdoctoral Researchers

Yolanda Brooks (Post Doc, Civil and Environmental Engineering). My research focuses on the intersection of water quality, public health, and the environment. Currently, I am investigating how water quality affects water insecurity and health outcomes in rural Kenya. I am also working in conjunction with AguaClara where I am comparing the efficacy of pathogen removal in these plants to conventional water treatment and how it relates to health outcomes in the communities. I completed my B.S. in Environmental Biology/Microbiology and Ph.D. in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University. In my spare time, I enjoy traveling and running.

For 2017-2018 Dr. Brooks is Lecturer at SUNY Oswego

Catherine Spirito (Post Doc and Lecturer, Civil and Environmental Engineering): My research focuses on pathogen detection and microbial source tracking in New York State watersheds. I am currently also the lecturer for a masters’ level course in the department called Water Chemistry for Environmental Engineers (CEE 6530). I completed my B.Eng. in Civil Engineering at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and my M.S./Ph.D. in Biological and Environmental Engineering in the lab of Lars Angenent at Cornell University. In my spare time, I enjoy biking and exploring Ithaca and the surrounding areas

Graduate Researchers

Cristina Fernández-Baca (PhD Student, Civil and Environmental Engineering). I am a PhD student in Environmental Processes and I am currently working on two wastewater related projects. The first centers on anaerobic wastewater treatment with the goal of creating sustainable designs for the Global South. We work closely with AguaClara students on this project by helping teams with reactor design and implementation. For my PhD work, I will be using molecular biomarkers to investigate microbial methane cycling in domestic wastewater treatment both in lab and full-scale technologies. I am from Iowa, and received my undergraduate degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Iowa. When I have free time I like to read, craft, and learn to salsa.

Egidio Tentori (PhD Student, Civil and Environmental Engineering). I am a PhD student in the Environmental Processes concentration. My research focuses of microbial methane cycling, specifically methanotrophs which are bacteria that consume methane. I am currently working with pure cultures of methanotrophs in chemostat reactors, using molecular biomarkers as indicators of methanotrophic activity. I plan on continuing this work using mixed-community cultures and eventually applying these techniques to environmental samples. I am originally from Honduras and I completed my bachelor and master degrees in environmental engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). I also worked in environmental consulting before coming to Cornell. In my free time I enjoy playing soccer, cooking and trying new foods.

Andrew St. James and his dog

Andrew St. James (PhD Student, Microbiology).I am a PhD student in the Field of Microbiology focusing metabolically versatile sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) in methanogenic environments. I am particularly interested in using multi-omics approaches to better understand how SRB are able to persist in environments with little or no sulfate and rapidly adapt metabolic strategies when sulfate becomes available. Through this work, I hope to identify and develop biomarkers indicative of in situ rates of sulfate reduction. I am from Roswell, GA and received my BS in Biology from Georgia Tech. Before arriving at Cornell, I spent two years as a high school science teacher in Orangeburg, SC through Teach For America. In my free time, I like to read, cook, and go hiking with my dog.

Tiffany Lee presents her research at the Engineering Learning Initiatives

Tiffany Lee, Environmental Engineering, BS 2016; MEng 2017

I am an MEng student in Environmental Engineering, and my current research is the study of bioremediation of chlorinated ethenes in contaminated groundwater. The experiment is set up into columns with oxygen-rich water to mimic the groundwater, and the performance of the culture is monitored and evaluated. I have been getting exciting results that show bacteria’s powerful role as a remediator of the contaminants, and I can’t wait to see and experience more of its potential! I like to spend my spare time with my friends or family watching movie, solving puzzles, and playing basketball. 

Undergraduate Researchers

Andrew Kim in Honduras with the AguaClara 1 Liter/s demo pilot plant

Andrew Kim (BS 2017).  Researching sustainable wastewater treatment and energy recovery using Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket Reactors (UASBs).

Emma Mosier (Environmental Engineering, BS 2017, MEng 2018)

Orvill Delatorre

Justin Bae (BS Biological Sciences expected 2018): I am a junior undergraduate student in Microbiology.  My research focuses on using molecular biological techniques to study microbial methane cycling in septic leach field soil.  I work with Cristina Fernandez-Baca and Amir-Eldin Omar.  I am from Los Angeles, California.  In my free time, I like to hike along streams, watch documentaries narrated by David Attenborough, and try new cooking techniques.

Amir Omar

Amir Omar (BS Biological Sciences). I am a sophomore in Biological Sciences. Although my career interests lie in the medical fields, I’ve always had an interest in microbial communities and their impact on our world. The project Cristina, Justin, and I are working on could provide us with answers to the ongoing problems involving methane release by soil microorganisms. I’m eager to work in an engineering environment and apply my knowledge of biology in new ways. Outside the lab, I love to play soccer and tennis, as well as spend time in Cayuga Lake and the Gorges. Currently, I’m working on ways in which I could spend my days during winter in Ithaca.

Lab Alumni


  • Dr. Cresten Mansfeldt (2014-2015) co-advised with Beth Ahner, BEE; currently postdoc, Swiss Federal Aquatic Research Institute (EAWAG) in the lab of Kathrin Fenner
  • Dr. Annie Rowe (2011-12); currently postdoc in the lab of Ken Nealson, USC
  • Dr. Kurt Rhoads (2010-12), co-advised with Beth Ahner, BEE; currently Assistant Professor, Case Western University
  • Dr. Jeff Werner (2008-10); currently Assistant Professor SUNY Cortland and Adjunct BEE Dept, Cornell
  • Dr. Robert Morris (2006 – 2008) co-advised with Prof Steve Zinder; currently Associate Professor, University of Washington

Grad Students:

  • Anne Otwell (PhD 2016),
  • Cresten Mansfeldt (PhD 2014), NSF Graduate Fellow
  • Gretchen Heavner (PhD 2013),
  • Annette Rowe (PhD 2011), NSF Graduate Fellow
  • Brian Rahm (PhD 2008),
  • Jing Zhao (MS 2016),
  • Amber Li (MS 2016),
  • Qiaochu Wang (MS 2015),
  • Yitian Sun (MS 2014),
  • Xian Zhang (MS 2012)
  • Prayut Bhamawat (MS 2011),
  • Brendan Lazar (MS 2006),
  • Rohit Gupta (MS 2003),
  • JinGi Hong (MS 2006),
  • Crystal Powers (MS 2007; co-advised with Norm Scott, BEE)


  • Erica Gardner (2018)
  • Jesse Pollard (2018)
  • Fiona Woods (2017)
  • Fanny Okaikue (2016)
  • Walker Grimshaw (2015)
  • Ethan Keller (2015)
  • Larry Ge (2015)
  • Alyson Gruber (2015)
  • Amiel Middelman (2015)
  • Vandana Swaminathan (2014)
  • Alex Hernsdorf (2014)
  • Garrett Debs (2014)
  • Bridget Hegarty (2014)
  • Melissa Hartleb (2014)
  • Nicholas Parisi (2014)
  • Sage Hellerstedt (2012)
  • Ju Khuan Pan (2012)
  • Vishal Bhagwanas (2012)
  • Micheal Degan (2010)
  • Ryan Walter (CEE, 2009)
  • Eric Kopache (Biological Eng’g) (2009)
  • Jessica Oribabor (Civil Eng’g) (2009)
  • Kaitlin Hanley (BEE, 2008)
  • Melina Diaconis (CEE, 2008)
  • Ting Daphne Ng (ChemE, 2008)
  • Micheal Gifford (CEE, 2007)
  • Scott Duda (CEE, 2007)
  • Christine Tran (Chem Eng’g, 2007)
  • Kenneth Sauer (BEE, 2008)
  • Rami Zahr, (ChemE, 2007)
  • Jan Ma (ChemE, 2007)
  • Shubha Bhar (CEE, 2006)
  • Morgan Rog (CEE, 2006)
  • Asha Marathe, (ChemE, 2005)
  • Alana Jonat (Microbiology, 2005)
  • Emily Warren (Chem Eng’g, 2005)
  • Lindsay Ellis (CEE, 2005)
  • Mindy Sun (BEE, 2005)