University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine

Department of Physiology and Biophysics

Miami, FL 33136

Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, I completed my bachelor’s degree in marine biology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2004.  My undergraduate thesis, under the direction of Dr. Joseph Pawlik, demonstrated that the marine polychaete, Cirriformia punctata, employs chemical defenses as an antipredatory mechanism.  Shortly thereafter, I entered the doctoral Integrative Biology Program at Florida Atlantic University.  My dissertation research focused on the sense of smell in elasmobranch fishes (sharks, rays, and skates) and involved everything from shark fishing in the Florida Keys to electro-physiology experiments at Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex to documentaries on shark biology.


Elasmobranchs are infamous for their highly acute sense of smell (olfaction).  This reputation is based partly on anecdotal evidence, but also on the large size of the olfactory structures. It is commonly assumed that these large olfactory structures confer greater sensitivity to odors, but previous studies have neglected to directly test this.  In addition, due to a lack of basic research, many conclusions about the elasmobranch olfactory system are drawn based on what is known about olfaction in the more extensively studied bony fishes (teleosts); however, several important difference exist between the two fish groups.  My dissertation research aimed to test these assumptions about the elasmobranch olfactory system in order to gain a better understanding of their true olfactory capabilities.  I found that sharks may not be as sensitive to odors as previously thought, but they may employ unique mechanisms to process odor information, not previously documented in any other vertebrate.  This type of research can help elucidate aspects of the evolution of olfaction, which is thought to be one of the most primitive sensory modalities, in a group of fish that predate dinosaurs.  In addition, understanding the basic biology of an organism, including how it perceives its environment, leads to more effective management and conservation strategies.


In December 2011, I completed my doctorate and am now working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.  My postdoctoral work will take my interest in the chemosenses in a new and exciting direction.  The research focuses on the taste system in mammals to determine how certain hormones may influence the sensitivity of taste cells and communication among them.


Please feel free to contact me.