New Research Training Program Brings Post-Doc Expertise to NAU


More than a dozen new post-doctoral scholars (Post-docs) have arrived at Northern Arizona University (NAU) this spring. Most of the Post-docs are from research universities from across the United States, and several are coming from other countries—Brazil, Canada, and the Netherlands. They were all recruited under the university's Support for Post-doctoral Associates (SPA) Program funded in 2013 by the Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF) through the Office of the Vice President for Research. The goal of the program is to bring new skills and expertise to NAU and to generate collaborative opportunities both within NAU and between NAU and other institutions. A coordinated post-doctoral program of this type has not been implemented at NAU before. 

Post-Docs fortin
David Fortin

To my knowledge, this is something that hasn't been done before in Arizona," says Lesley Cephas, NAU Director of Research Development and Technology Transfer. "Faculty hire Post-docs all of the time—one at a time. But we're bringing on board 16 Post-docs, relatively simultaneously. Our research community is small enough so that 16 Post-docs should have a tangible impact on NAU's overall research capacity and productivity."

NAU researchers are excited by the possibilities. "After 20 years as a university professor, I have yet to work with a post-doctoral researcher," said Darrell Kaufman, NAU Regent's Professor of Geology. "The time is right to engage a postdoctoral associate to help pursue larger and more sophisticated scientific questions, and to open the door to new research directions and funding opportunities." Kaufman has hired David Fortin from Queen's University in Canada to work with him and Erik Schiefer, NAU Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography, Planning & Recreation, to advance paleoclimatic research. Fortin is developing a modeling and monitoring project for three lake systems—important information for understanding global climate change. Fortin will also help launch NAU's new interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability.

post-docs Katy
Katy Califf

David Wagner, NAU Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Associate Director of The Center for Microbial Genetics & Genomics, has brought aboard Katy Califf from Michigan State University to help analyze large genomic datasets to identify a possible new vaccine and therapeutic targets for melioidosis, a disease caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. "The ability to generate large amounts of genomic data has revolutionized the biomedical sciences. However, handling and analyzing these large datasets is not trivial and requires specialized skills—skills that currently do not exist in my research group," Wagner explained. Califf brings that skillset to NAU. "This work has great potential to develop new intellectual property for NAU, and should also lead to more external funding," said Wagner.


Post-Doc Scholars Specialty Areas NAU Mentors Post-Docs' Ph.D. Institutions
Katy Califf Bioinformatics David Wagner Michigan State University
Foezur Chowdury Acoustic Speech Analysis/
Okim Kang University of Quebec (Canada)
Fabio Suzart
de Albuquerque
Ecology Paul Beier Universidad de Alcalá (Spain)
William Flatley Forestry Peter Fule Texas A & M University
David Fortin Paleoclimatology Darrell Kaufman,
Erik Schiefer
Queen's University (Canada)
Crystal Hepp Molecular/Cellular Biology Talima Pearson,
Greg Caporaso
Arizona State University
Robert LeMoyne Biomechanics/
Kiisha Nishikawa University of California (Los Angeles)
Eric Morgan Wind and Solar Energy Tom Acker,
Paul Flikkema,
Brent Nelson
University of Massachusetts
Frances O'Donnell Ecohydrology Abe Springer Princeton University
Paulo Fernando
Astronomy/Informatics David Trilling University of Arizona
Kristen Potter Acoustics Richard Hofstetter University of Arizona
Kees Jan van Groenigen Environmental Science Bruce Hungate Wageningen University (Netherlands)
Chase Williamson Microbes/Genomics Jeff Foster Colorado School of Mines


Post-docs kristin
Kristen Potter

Richard Hofstetter, NAU Associate Professor in the School of Forestry, said the new Post-doc program may help him get closer to developing a prototype for a patent-pending invention to control insects with acoustic technology. Although Dr. Hofstetter is a forest entomologist and has specialized in wood-infesting insects for more than 20 years, his knowledge and experience using acoustic technologies is limited. Postdoctoral associate Kristen Potter from the University of Arizona brings that expertise to NAU. She will help expand, test, and commercialize the acoustic technology developed by Dr. Hofstetter. "This project directly addresses NAU priorities to promote creativity, innovation, and excellence in research," said Hofstetter. "It will help disseminate new and useful knowledge generated by NAU research for the public benefit, and ultimately it will provide revenue for supporting further NAU research which, in turn, may facilitate the discovery of more inventions and patents."

Other Post-docs in the program are also increasing NAU's research capacity. As the accompanying table illustrates, they are bringing expertise in the areas of astronomy, biomechanics, ecohydrology, ecology, environmental science, forestry, informatics, microbes and genomics, molecular and cellular biology, speech analysis and programming, and wind and solar energy. For more information about the SPA Program, contact Lesley Cephas.

--Sylvia Somerville