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Meet Our New Faculty

September 9, 2020

The School of Natural Sciences is pleased to welcome and introduce 10 new faculty members this fall. 

We look forward to supporting their careers and research development as we continue our advancement to R1.

Andrea (“Andre”) Merg, Assistant Professor, Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Dr. Merg completed his B.S. in Chemistry at Winthrop University in South Carolina before earning his Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburg. He joins SNS from Emory University where he completed his post-doctoral research. Dr. Merg will explore the design and fabrication of nanoscale materials derived from the self-assembly of sequence-programmable biomolecules (e.g., peptides, proteins, and nucleic acids).


Anna Nierenberg, Assistant Professor, Physics 

Dr. Nierenberg joins SNS as part of the Physics department’s first cohort of astrophysicists. She earned her B.S. in Physics from UCLA for her B.S. before earning her Ph.D. in Physics from UC Santa Barbara. Her postdoctoral research was completed at Ohio State University as well as the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Nierenberg’s research interests include star formations in the smallest galaxies as well as revealing the nature of dark matter.


Brian Utter, Teaching Professor, Physics

Dr. Utter earned his  B.S. at Rutgers University and his M.S. from Cornell University, both in Physics. He then went on to obtain his Ph.D. from Cornell University and completed his postdoctoral research at Duke University. His research interests are in the fields of soft condensed matter, nonlinear dynamics, complex systems, and physics education research, in which interactions of simple building blocks lead to unexpected emergent behavior.


Hui Cai, Assistant Professor, Physics 

Dr. Cai earned a B.E. in Materials Physics from Yanshan University and an M.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from Zhejiang University in China. He then completed his Ph.D. at Arizona State University before joining Oak Ridge National Lab as a Post Doc Researcher to study two-dimensional quantum materials and devices. He will continue to explore his interests in condensed matter physics and materials science in the Cai Lab at UC Merced.


Michael Thompson, Assistant Professor, Chemistry & Chemical Biology 

Dr. Thompson completed his bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley and continued on at UCLA to earn his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. His postdoctoral work at UCSF focused on providing insight into the conformational landscapes of biological macromolecules by developing methods that combine temperature perturbations and structural analysis of the molecules. Dr. Thompson’s current work focuses on understanding how temperature modulates the relationship between function and structure of biological macromolecules.


Michele Nishiguchi, Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology 

Dr. Nishiguchi (aka “Nish”) completed her bachelor’s degree at UC Davis where she discovered her passion for marine invertebrate zoology which led her to earn an M.S. in Marine Biology from UC San Diego. She earned her Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz before completing post-doc research on the sepiolid squid-Vibrio symbiosis at USC and the University of Hawaii. She was at New Mexico State University for 21 years in the Department of Biology as a Regents Professor and the Department Head. Now at UC Merced, Dr. Nishiguchi and her team will continue to explore the mechanisms that drive host-symbiont recognition among vibrio bacteria and their squid hosts.  


Rebeca Arevalo, Assistant Professor, Chemistry & Chemical Biology 

Dr. Arevalo completed her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Oviedo in Spain. Her postdoctoral research at Princeton University focused on cobalt-catalyzed C-H borylation. As an SNS faculty member, she will continue to explore her interests in fundamental chemistry with the aim of understanding applied processes in the fields of catalysis, coordination, and organometallic chemistry.  


Sarah Loebman, Assistant Professor, Physics

Dr. Loebman joins SNS as part of the Physics department’s first cohort of astrophysicists. She earned her Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Washington before conducting her postdoctoral research first at the University of Michigan and later at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Loebman’s research interests include galactic structure, Milky Way dynamics, high-resolution hydrodynamic simulations, galactic chemo-dynamics, star cluster evolution, dark matter detection & the scientific application of database technology.  


Stefan Materna, Assistant Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology 

While pursuing his undergraduate degree, Dr. Materna studied at both the University of Freiburg in Germany and the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He then moved to the California Institute of Technology where he earned his Ph.D in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. Following a Postdoc at UCSF, Dr. Materna initially joined UC Merced as a Staff Scientist and has now accepted a position within the SNS faculty.  


Xuan Zhang, Assistant Professor, Life & Environmental Sciences

Dr. Zhang earned her Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering from the California Institute of Technology before joining the National Center for Atmospheric Research as a research scientist. Her research aims to gain a predictive and mechanistic understanding of the sources, chemistry, and environmental impact of gaseous and particulate pollutants in the air. Her research provides a causative link of the chemical signature of air pollution with its climate interactions and adverse health impact in a rapidly changing global environment.