Field Descriptions H to Z

(Go to Field Descriptions A-G)

Historian of Mathematics

Amir Alexander

When did human beings first begin using numbers? Where and when did the number “zero” emerge? Who first came up with the idea of doing algebra? Geometry? Calculus? What events and which other discoveries inspired these ideas? And how did they shape the world we live in? People who study the history of mathematics explore just that: the history of math and the different ways it has developed in different places.  Historian of Mathematics Amir Alexander finds “the interconnections between mathematics and the broader world of culture, religion, art, and politics” fascinating.


Kent Teague
Martha Zúñiga

The scabs that close cuts in our skin and help them heal, sneezing and itchiness from allergies, swelling and bruises are all signs of our immune system working to keep us well. Immunologists like Kent Teague study the ways the immune system keeps us healthy and how it acts when we are ill or under other types of stress. Immunologist Martha Zúñiga studies the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), looking at the different ways our immune systems and those of mice respond to transplants.

Interventional Radiologist

Derek West


When something goes wrong inside your body, it helps to be able to see the problem. Radiologists are doctors who use tools like ultrasound, x-rays, computed tomography (CT scans), position emission tomography (PET scans), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to diagnose and treat disease and injuries.  Interventional Radiologist and Bioengineer Derek West uses these tools to check his patients for cancer and uses nanotechnology to help cure them.


Jordan Ellenberg
Edward Frenkel

Mathematicians study numbers, patterns, systems, space, and change. Mathematics includes many fields, from cryptography (creating and breaking codes) to mathematical physics. Arithmetic Geometer Jordan Ellenberg explores the connections between number theory and geometry.  Mathematician Edward Frenkel investigates these types of connections as well. His research is on the Langlands Program, a web of conjectures (ideas/hypotheses) linking different areas of math as well as quantum physics.

Mechanical Engineer

Julia Lintern
Rachel Rothman

Mechanical engineers design, build, and repair machines. Engineer Julia Lintern uses her degrees in mechanical engineering and applied math in her work at car and plane companies and as a fashion designer. Mechanical Engineer Rachel Rothman and her team at Good Housekeeping test products from race cars to televisions to Halloween costumes, checking whether each one is safe and works the way it should.

Microbial Biologist

Sean Gibbons


Microbial Biologists like Sean Gibbons explore microbiomes in many places, from public bathrooms to the human body, in order to study the impact that microbes have on human health.

Nuclear Physicist

Renee Fatemi

Most of the mass — most of the “stuff” — in the visible universe is made of tiny particles called quarks and gluons. We don’t yet fully understand these particles, found in the nucleus of an atom. Nuclear physicists explore their properties, which give us clues about the history of the universe and the Big Bang and also the movement and interactions of everything around us. Nuclear Physicist Renee Fatemi studies the spin of protons and the particles within them. Her work helps us understand the properties of ordinary matter and the fundamental particles within it.

Nutritional Epidemiologist

Alison Gustafson


Nutrition epidemiologists like Alison Gustafson, a registered dietitian, look at the ways the food we eat affects our health and physical activity. They study biology, nutrition, and biostatistics as well as epidemiology, which examines diseases and how they spread. And they help develop ways of improving the diets of large groups of people.


Laura Gooch


Ornithologists like Laura Gooch (trained as a Civil Engineer) study birds. Gooch helps collect data about the birds caught and released in Ohio. She also records the songs of birds that migrate over her home each night and shares information she gathers with the Macaulay Library, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Physical Oceanographer

Emmanuel Boss


Physical Oceanographers study the physical aspects of the Earth’s oceans (water movement, heat content, sound and light propagation). Emmanuel Boss looks at the ways light and sound interact with ocean water to infer the quantity and characteristics of material (algae, plankton, sediments, etc.) contained in the oceans over time.


Nicholas Carrera

Physicists ask questions about matter (from tiny particles to the entire universe and its galaxies), energy, and the interactions between them. They run experiments and observe the ways things behave in order to find answers.  The information physicists discover is used to build and power machines and to understand the ways natural materials (as well as the ones we make) behave here on Earth and in outer space.

Physicist-turned-Diplomat Nicholas Carrera studied halide crystals (used in photography and medical technology) and flew a plane through clouds to help figure out whether crystals like those he had worked with could “seed” clouds and produce rain.  After Nuclear Physicist Robert Rochlin invited Carrera to join the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), Carrera examined seismic stations which measured the earthquake-like effects produced at nuclear test sites around the world. He is proud to say that thanks to the work of the ACDA and other diplomatic efforts, “the major nuclear-weapon states are no longer conducting nuclear explosions.”

Physiological Ecologist

Manuel Lerdau


Physiological ecology is a combination of physiology (the systems within organisms) and ecology (the relationships between organisms and the environment). Physiological ecologists like Manuel Lerdau study the ways plants and soils change in response to their environments.

Theoretical Astrophysicist

Scott Tremaine


Theoretical astrophysicists study the laws of nature in space, using these discoveries to help us understand how the same laws work on our planet. Did you know that helium was discovered in the Sun before it was identified here on Earth? Theoretical astrophysics helps us learn how stars shine, where they’re located, what orbits them, and how they come to exist. Scott Tremaine, of the Institute for Advanced Study, uses math and physics to find planets and explore black holes.

Theoretical Neuroscientist

Brian DePasquale


Your nervous system helps your brain communicate with the rest of your body. Neuroscience is the study of the brain and the rest of the nervous system (including the spinal cord and the large network of nerve cells — neurons — that travel through most animals’ bodies). Theoretical neuroscientists like Brian DePasquale use computers and mathematics, as well as the results of experiments done by biologists, to improve our understanding of neuroscience.

Software Architect

Erik Antelman


Software architects like Erik Antelman, a software engineer, design large-scale systems of software. For instance, a social network like Facebook might have parts on a phone, other parts on computers, and others on a server. Each of those parts of a system has many layers behind it. Software architects work with all of these parts and their layers, helping build and maintain the system as a whole.

Software Engineer

Malik Coates

Software engineers create instructions for computers, making them do something entertaining (like a game) or useful (like an application that helps students and professionals get their work done). Their knowledge of engineering, computer science, and mathematical analysis helps them design, develop, and maintain software.  Software Engineer Malik Coates develops programs to help users explore the universe, watch animated movies like How to Train Your Dragon 2, and play games. Software Engineer Erik Antelman, a software architect, works on programs that scan social media for hints of new outbreaks of disease and helps design operating systems for NASA rockets.

Spacecraft Systems Engineer

Paul Mirel


Spacecraft Systems Engineers like Paul Mirel design, build, and operate satellites that orbit the Earth and instruments carried high into the upper atmosphere on balloons and short-range rockets.

Stellar Astrophysicist

Lucianne Walkowicz


What are stars and their atmospheres made of? How do they move? How do they change over time? And what can we learn about the planets that orbit them? Stellar astrophysicists explore answers to questions like these. Lucianne Walkowicz studies the stars of our Milky Way galaxy and helps search for signs of life in the universe.

Registered Dietician

Alison Gustafson


Dietitians study human nutrition and advise people on healthy ways to eat. Nutrition Epidemiologist Alison Gustafson explores how the places people shop for food affect the choices they make for themselves and their families.

Water Resource Engineer

Cynthia Clark


Water Resource Engineers like Cynthia Clark make sure that we all have enough water to drink, that farmers and other professionals have all the water they need, and that our water is clean and safe.  They study the ways water moves through natural and human-made places where it is stored, from snow and ice on mountain tops to rivers, canals, and wells.


X-Ray Crystallographer


How are atoms arranged within molecules? X-ray crystallographers like Haroon Malak shoot x-rays into crystals to figure out how their atoms are arranged. X-ray crystallography is a widely known application which helps scientists figure out the spacial orientation of molecules in different substances. This tool is applicable to many types of research and industries including pharmacology and confectionery production.


John Hoogland

Zoologists are biologists who study animals. They learn about those animals and their ecosystems by observing them under natural conditions and also by studying them in laboratories. Zoologist John Hoogland studies wild prairie dogs in the grasslands of western North America. Says Behavioral Ecologist Hoogland, the work of zoologists “contributes to our understanding of why animals do what they do.” His work with prairie dogs “has implications for other social animals, including humans.”


(Go to Field Descriptions A-G)