Science Sustainability Team Members 2010-2012

The Environment Institute initiated its third Sustainability Science Team (SST), a cohort of doctoral students from across the UCI campus, in Summer 2012. The SSTs have included PhD students from humanities, social sciences, social ecology, engineering, physical sciences, and business. Taking a trans-disciplinary approach, each team defined a specific problem in sustainability science, developed an integrated approach to understanding the problem, and determined how application of the different skills, knowledge bases and interests represented by the team members can achieve the great outputs and measurable solutions. The SST program involved collaboration with UCI faculty as well as campus and community engagement through seminars and workshops.

SST - 2012

Leda Katebian

EngineeringCivil & Environmental Engineering


"For many, it is difficult to comprehend that water is a depleting natural resource similar to fossil fuels. It is just as necessary to reduce our reliance on traditional freshwater sources like groundwater as it is to find renewable energy sources to supplement the use of fossil fuels. I have been drawn to multidisciplinary research because the issue of creating a sustainable water source for human consumption crosses all fields."

Leda Katebian's interest in an alternative, drought-proof water source to meet the increasing water demand in arid coastal areas led her to pursue research in seawater desalination. In particular, her research is driven by finding environmentally friendly, low-cost, and efficient methods to prevent bacterial aggregation on membrane surfaces, known as biofouling. This will help reduce the energy demand and maintenance costs with respect to membrane cleaning and replacement for seawater desalination. Leda's current research integrates a microbiology and engineering approach to prevent biofouling bysuppressing cell-to-cell communication on the reverse osmosis membrane surface using quorum quenching compounds.

Francisco Fernandez

Social EcologyPlanning, Policy & Design


"Environmental inequalities are often closely married to social inequalities. The everyday degradations in urban environment cause most ill-health and deaths, especially in poorer cities and neighborhoods. It has been well documented that low-income urban workers tend to suffer most from climate change when heat waves, drought, and heavy rains increase food prices. Given that environmental issues and poor people deprivation seem to be linked in urban settings, it is imperative to understand the ecological and social processes by which this mutual reinforcement operates. The reinforcing patterns tend to be related to housing conditions; limited awareness of risk; restrictive employment opportunities that often force urban poor residents into hazardous work environments; poor access to quality health care; crime and substance abuse; and limited infrastructure for basic services such as garbage disposal, clean water and sewage; and poor-quality air."

Francisco Fernandez is PhD student at the Planning, Policy, and Design Department at UCI. He has about 10 years of policy experience in the Mexican federal government and is currently doing research on urban poverty and sustainability in fast growing cities. His research focuses on policy intervention by addressing issues of governance, consensus building, and collaborative networks. Francisco’s work examines how the false dichotomy between top-down and bottom-up development approaches obscures the working of mediating institutions that organize poverty alleviation efforts and the way the urban poor face the effects of climate change on their poverty conditions.


Ali Mehran

EngineeringCivil & Environmental Engineering


"For many years, water and energy resources have been used without much thought, and everyday on NEWS we hear about climate change and global warming.  Who will defend the interests of those whom we've never met and may never will?  I have always been curious about the future of civilization and how the current culture will affect the future."

Ali Mehran's background is in hydrology, fluid mechanics, and programming. His first opportunity to work with a multi-disciplinary team was at Tokyo Tech. University in 2008 and later at North Carolina State University in 2010.  Ali's current research is focused on development of a new nested multi-scale modeling framework for flood forecasting that assesses climate change impacts on the terrestrial water cycle. Once the modeling framework is developed, the effects of climate change on the water cycle can be recognized. 


Renzo Samame

Physical SciencesChemistry

Paul Stroik


" What are we striving for if not a ‘better’ tomorrow?  A future with fewer of our current problems, and one where lesser problems may fill their place.  This goal cannot be achieved through unsustainable practices, for such practices in their nature will be of least cost.  Once the resources that made unsustainable practices possible are exhausted, the practice must be altered or supported by a new, higher cost resource.  A sustainable solution to any unsustainable practice is harder to manage in the short run, but it comes with one major advantage – an increase in the probability of a future with lesser problems than we experience today."

Paul Stroik is interested in the effectiveness of environmental regulation on varying economic sectors, primarily those directly regulated, as their respective market structures likely differ from one another, resulting in theoretically different outcomes in market efficiency from varying environmental regulation. Paul’s current research asks what happens to the cost of provision of natural gas, along with the market power of natural gas providers, when the free market is allowed to provide the residential sale of natural gas, instead of a regulated natural monopoly.

SST - 2011

Erik Altenbernd


"I am a Ph.D. candidate in history working with David Igler. My dissertation, currently titled “Desert Manifest: Landscape, Statecraft, and Nationhood across Arid America,” is an environmental and cultural history of the American desert that looks at changes in American perceptions of arid lands during the nineteenth century. As an environmental historian, I am particularly interested in the history not only of desert lands, but of water and water allocation, especially in California and the American West. For me, the 2011 Science Team provides a welcome departure—the opportunity to research environmental problems and policies in a variety of contemporary contexts."

Nora Davis

Social Ecology

"I am a doctoral student in the School of Social Ecology, supervised by Dr. Daniel Stokols. I primarily focus on research in environmental psychology, and specifically on the extraordinary transcendent experiences which may occur in different built and natural environments, and how these may contribute to the development of pro-environmental value orientations and behaviors. My academic background in environmental psychology and professional background in planning and green building are serving as a great contribution to the science team’s goals of analyzing sustainability sister city analysis. As such, the primary questions I am contributing to are: What are the demographic, contextual, political and psychological variables which may enhance or impede the development, implementation and continuation of a sustainability focused inter-city partnership?"

Josh Gellers

Social Sciences

"While law is an inescapable facet of life, the motivations behind certain laws and the degree to which they are enforced vary widely. I am interested in understanding why and how people use law to protect their rights and the environment in which they inhabit. Indeed, the very future of our planet will depend on how capable legal systems are of addressing important environmental issues at every level of governance."

Josh is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Florida, an M.A. in Climate and Society from Columbia University, and an M.A. in Political Science from UCI. Josh has served as a researcher for the Global Roundtable on Climate Change (GROCC), Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), and Earth Institute at Columbia University, and has interned at the U.S. Department of Commerce, City of Irvine, City of Long Beach, and EcoMedia, a CBS company. Josh has published work in International Environmenta lAgreements and the Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation.

Josh first became interested in environmental issues while growing up in South Florida, where hurricanes served as a regular reminder of nature's destructive potential. After college he attended graduate school at Columbia University to gain a better scientific understanding of climate change and its impacts throughout the world. Josh's focus on the environment and background in social science coalesced when he enrolled in Prof. Joseph DiMento's Environmental Law course. Inspired by the power of the law to regulate human behavior and safeguard the environment, his current research examines why countries adopt environmental rights in their national constitutions. Josh's dissertation includes a global statistical analysis of constitutional environmental rights, and has taken him to Nepal and Sri Lanka, where he has conducted in-depth case study analyses.

Dustin McLarty

EngineeringMechanical & Aerospace Engineering

"I am a PhD candidate in the School of Engineering, supervised by Prof. Jack Brouwer. Widespread deployment of renewable power generators requires a flexible and responsive network of non-intermittent generators and storage devices capable of operating on the fuels of tomorrow. My work in fuel cells, gas turbine hybrids, and combined cooling, heating and power technologies utilizes thermal storage technology and fuel cells to addresses the need for flexible generation from both renewable and non-renewable feed-stocks. My energy systems background supports the analysis and feasibility of sustainable energy options when evaluating intercity partnerships for sustainability. My PhD work focuses on the technical aspects of electrical generation and demand response while my science team contribution focuses on the economic, policy, and sociology challenges associated with deployment of such technologies. An opportunity exists to connect, through inter-city partnerships, the regions with high demand for renewable power, and those regions with high potential for generating renewable power, particularly in regards to available land space."

Nasrin Nasrollahi

EngineeringCivil & Environmental Engineering

"Water is the most important component on the planet. Nearly one billion people do not have access to safe water. In addition to water scarcity, climate change increases the potential for serious conflicts over water. Thinking about water scarcity, I was always passionate to study in the field of water resources to improve our water management systems."

Nasrin Nasrollahi is a PhD candidate at the Center of Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing (CHRS), UC Irvine (advisor: Prof. Sorooshian). She holds a BS in Civil
Engineering and a MSc in Water Resources Engineering and Management. Nasrin's current research is focused on implementation of multi-spectral satellite imagery and cloud classification maps in satellite precipitation algorithms. Nasrin is the recipient of the 2011 NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship for her graduate studies. The main objective of her research is to develop a multi-spectral, multi-satellite precipitation retrieval algorithm. Her approach intends to utilize supplementary sources of information on cloud characteristics in order to detect non-precipitating clouds and eliminate false precipitation estimates from satellites. The improved global precipitation data will be available to the scientific community and decision makers for research and application purposes.

SST - 2010

Alexis Hickman

Social EcologyPlanning, Policy & Design

My research is both extremely depressing and uplifting at the same time. Rapid habitat loss, extreme mismanagement of waste, loss of life and livelihoods… the list goes on and on. But then I see the people at every level – individual, community, municipal, national, regional – who are just as concerned about this problem and are spending their lives working to educate people, network, and actively address these very problems."

Alexis Hickman’ passion for Southeast Asian coastal cities impacted by environmental degradation and climate change is inspired by personal experience. After spending much of her childhood in Southeast Asia, Alexis realized the impact of environmental governance formed in response to environmental change. Through a case study of Bangkok, Alexis’research examines the ways in which the city is serving as an incubator of innovative environmental governance systems aimed at mitigating urban impacts on coastal resources and adapting urban populations to global environmental challenges with a developing country context.

Joe Horwath

EngineeringChemical Engineering & Materials Science

“Energy policy should always be crafted with efficiency in mind; pertaining not only to energy input/work output but also greenhouse gas emissions, land use, fuel security, and domestic economic impact rather than conservation.”

With a lifelong interest in energy and the environment Joe’s research focus is on enhancing and developing the performance of clean air energy systems. His current research is focused on the development of materials that will help the performance efficiency of clean coal turbines.

Sarah Lyon


“Expanding your educational foundation and incorporating interdisciplinary ideas into research questions can yield interesting and meaningful results.”

With a dual focus on the “bottom-line” and environmental issues, Sarah Lyon explores sustainable business practices. The emerging area of corporate sustainability reporting informs Sarah’s research, which includes the growth of sustainable reporting among US firms, the market reaction to the publication of sustainability information, and the influence of location on sustainability activities. Through a combination of market and scientific research, Sarah examines the impact of environmentally-conscious business practices.

Sasha (Alexandra) Richey

EngineeringCivil & Environmental Engineering

"I am fascinated by understanding how humans interact with natural resources, and how the relationship between the two will change with time, particularly in the face of climate change. I have always been mesmerized by water as a critical natural resource. It is a backbone of life, yet it is often taken for granted by its many users. In order to be truly sustainable, and understanding of the linkages across all disciplines is essential."

When Sasha Richey turns on the water faucet, she sees much more than a simple stream of water – Sasha sees a complex web of sustainable resources. Using NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission, Sasha’s research is focused on developing a rigorous ratio of human water withdrawal versus availability. This ratio will provide a unique perspective into the sustainable use of limited resources. By examining the availability of water, a limited, critical resource affected by climate change, Sasha’s research enables a reasoned response to the intricate socio-economic implications.

Danielle Tinkoff

HumanitiesComparative Literature

"It took me a while to determine that my theoretical curiosities and personal affections toward nature and the environment could be a viable academic interest.  There is a great deal of interest, especially given our current social and cultural circumstance, for understanding what role language plays in determining our relationship to, impact upon, and conceptions of the environment.”

Truly an interdisciplinary scholar, Danielle Tinkoff’s current research is focused on the intersection of environmental issues, land preservation, public policy and legal discourse. Danielle’s wide range of academic pursuits has included English, linguistics, anthropology, philosophy, and environmentalism.  The critical theory program at UC Irvine provides Danielle with the opportunity to traverse disciplinary boundaries, in pursuit of innovative research.  By exploring the ways people reason through, communicate about, and make decisions regarding environmental issues, Danielle examines the implications of “preserving” national landscapes as National Monuments.