People in the Leaf Wax Lab

Prospective PhD students

  • In my lab, we specialize in molecular techniques to reconstruct plant cover and precipitation isotopes as clues to past conditions. watch our lab on YouTube
  • You can find more details about my research interests and methods on my publication page. After familiarizing yourself with these approaches and questions, please email me to discuss these opportunities and how you are motivated to contribute to such research directions.
  • Prospective students would take part in the lively geochemistry/geobiology/climate research program at USC and in Southern California.
  • California has long attracted science from the mountaintop observatories, to desert vistas revealing geology, to the ocean ecosystems offshore (dolphins!), not to mention the great weather. One benefit of the research hub here, is that students take part in the annual So Cal Geobio Symposium rotating between USC-Caltech-UCR: a lively and high caliber, student-run meeting.
  • My research group is multi-cultural welcoming students from the USA, UK, Canada, Korea, Macau, China, India, Germany and Colombia to date.
  • Application information for the PhD program can be found on the webpage of the Department of Earth Sciences at USC.
  • The Application Filing Deadline for the Department of Earth Sciences is January 1st, for a start date of August the following academic year.

Prospective Postdoctoral Researchers

  • If you are interested in exploring the opportunities for postdoctoral research in my lab, and have ideas for your research and how to fund it, please contact me by email. National fellowships are competitive and typically have 1 year lead times between proposal and start date.
  • Past postdoctoral researchers Dr Camilo Ponton, Dr Bernhard Aichner and Dr Isabel Romero, have each spent a year in my lab and published the results of their research at GRL, GCA, CP and OG and continued on to research positions at Caltech, Potsdam and Florida


  • Visiting graduate students include Annie Tamalavage, Tom Peters, Aleesha Bakkelund, Gerard Otiniano, visiting for weeks to months to learn organic geochemical techniques and compound specific isotopic analyses and to process and analyze their own samples.
  • Visiting postdoctoral researchers include Dr Jessica Hinojosa, Dr Xiuwei Liu and Dr Eva Niedermeyer, each have visited for several weeks for compound specific carbon isotopic analyses.

USC Undergraduates

  • I usually have 1-4 undergraduates associated with my lab at any time, typically continuing their involvement for multiple semesters for an in-depth experience, a chance to build laboratory skills and to meaningfully contribute to progress on the research projects active in the lab. Students acquire organizational abilities, improve their manual dexterity, demonstrate ability to follow protocols, operate analytical instrumentation, troubleshoot problems – all valuable skills for many careers. Many continue to graduate school or careers where the acquired skills and experiences are an asset. Please contact me by email (include your GPA, degree-discipline, year of study, prior work experience and skills), if you would be interested in a research project or work study opportunities.
Sarah Feakins
Associate Professor

Graduate Researchers

“Christine” Mong Sin Wu
BSc, MSc Hong Kong University (Earth Science) 2012. MSc USC (Geology)  2014. PhD candidate.
Christine is an isotope biogeochemist and paleoclimatologist.
Project 1: Paleoclimate reconstructions from Lake Elsinore, California, using leaf wax hydrogen isotopes.
Project 2: Leaf wax carbon isotopes in a tropical forest elevation gradient. article
Project 3: Catchment integration of plant wax biomarkers.
Christine Wu
Hyejung Lee
BA University of Pennsylvania (Earth Science) 2013.
PhD candidate and Provost Fellow.
August 2013 –
Hyejung is an isotope biogeochemist. She specializes in experimental determinations of fundamental isotopic fractionations. Project 1: Arabidopsis thaliana. article
Project 2: Derivatization conditions.
Project 3: Lignin methoxyl method development.
Mark Peaple
MEarthSci University of Oxford (Earth Sciences)
August 2016 –
Mark’s interests are in researching the connection between climate change and human evolution. He is reconstructing Pliocene environments at Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia.
Mark Peaple
Emily Tibbett
BSc (Environmental Sciences) 2016
arriving August 2017!
Emily’s interests are in reconstructing high latitude paleoclimate.
photo coming soon

Visiting Researchers

Xiuwei Liu
PhD Chinese Academy of Sciences (Agroecology)
BSc Binzhou (Ecology)
current postdoc TAMU
visitor October 2016
wheat wax!
Experimental study of leaf wax alkane response in winter wheat cultivars to drought conditions, in review
Xiuwei Liu
Jess Hinojosa
current postdoc Caltech
visitor September 2016
Southern Hemisphere Paleoclimate
Anne Tamalavage
BSc Penn State , MSc TAMU, current PhD student TAMU
Visiting student Summer 2016 and 2017
Bahamas Late Holocene Paleoecological and Paleoclimate Reconstruction
Annie Tamalavage
Gerard Otiniano
current masters student University of Toronto Mississauga
visitor May 2017
Pliocene Arctic reconstructions
Aleesha Bakkelund
current masters student University of Toronto Mississauga
visitor June 2017
Modern calibration and Holocene Arctic reconstructions
Aleesha Bakkelund

Undergraduate Researchers

Patrick Cho
Earth Sciences Undergraduate. Provost fellowship – research on Bengal Fan project.
watch Patrick in the lab
Heading to JPL for a summer internship in the Williford lab, summer 2017.
Patrick Cho
“Lina” Woorin Lee
Environmental Science and Health Undergraduate.
Lab internship on Bengal Fan project.
Ariel Borsook
Earth Science Undergraduate.
Lab internship on Bengal Fan project.Heading to WHOI for an intership in the Galy lab, summer 2017.
Efrain Vidal
Environmental Studies Undergraduate.
Lab internship on Bengal Fan project. KCM Undergraduate Grant and Anita Brown Wilson Scholarship awardee
Efrain Vidal

Lab Alumni

Dr. Hannah Liddy
PhD USC 2017
BA Bard College (Environmental Studies) 2010
USC July 2011-May 2017 College Merit Fellow & Schlanger Ocean Drilling Fellowship 2013-2014. IODP Expedition 355 drilling the Indus Fan. Reconstructing Pliocene NE African environments from marine sediments of DSDP Site 231. (Liddy et al., 2016, EPSL) article
watch Hannah in the lab
Soon starting as Executive Liason Officer for AIMES at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
Hannah (231x350)
“Jay” Jun Ho Paek
Chemical Enginneering Undergraduate.
Lab internship on Bengal Fan project.
Graduated May 2017
Jay (250)
Alexandra Figueroa
Earth Sciences Undergraduate.
Lab internship working on Peru, Indus and Bengal Fan projects. WiSE fellowship recipient 2015. Senior thesis in 2015 on Indus Fan.
Graduated May 2016.
Now O’Neill Service Group in Seattle.
Ali Figueroa (540x640)
Elias Karkabi
BSc University of California, Los Angeles (Earth Science) 2014
Graduate Student Provost Fellow.
August 2014-July 2015 Bay of Bengal Neogene plant wax reconstructions of vegetation and monsoon change.
Elias Karkabi_small
Tom Peters
MSc University of Amsterdam 2015. Visitor at USC Jan-Jul 2015. Project: leaf wax traits in tropical forest elevation gradient. Now working in Tech!
Jane Lah
Earth Sciences Undergraduate.
Lab internship on Bengal Fan project.
Jane (250)
Jeremy Sunwoo
Environmental Sciences Undergraduate. Lab internship assisting with Peru project. Graduated 2015. Worked at Los Angeles waterboard with CalEPA. Now Heading to graduate school!
Dr. Camilo Ponton
Postdoctoral researcher. Bengal Fan. IODP Funded. February 2015 – to June 2015 watch Camilo onboard Exp 354 hereLignin methoxyl hydrogen isotope proxy development. PRF funded. January 2014 – to January 2015 River biomarker studies in Andean-Amazonian catchment. NSF funded. Jointly advised by Josh West. January 2013 – December 2013
Now postdoctoral researcher at Caltech, in John Eiler’s group
Lindsay Arvin
Earth Sciences Undergraduate, Graduated December 2014.SURF and WiSE fellow. Estwing Pick Prize winner. Senior Thesis in 2014: Leaf waxes and plant waters in a tropical montane forest in Peru now graduate student at U Wyoming and NSF GSRF recipient.
Lindsay thru lines (640x416)
Clara Hua
Undergraduate Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Major. Lab internship assisting with Peru project.
Krista McPherson
Earth Sciences Undergraduate. Awarded SURF and ESRAP funding for work on the Peru project. WiSE fellow.
Graduated 2015.
Masters at USC in GIS, now works at ESRI.
Krista McPherson (400x289)
Dr. Bernhard Aichner
Postdoctoral researcher, DAAD Tibetan lakes. January 2013 – April 2014. Research published in Climate of the Past article
Now DFG-funded Research Associate U Potsdam
Bernhard at Karakul (220x158)
Dr. Bernd Hoffmann
Visiting Graduate Student, University of Potsdam
May-July 2012 Hydrogen isotopes recorded by plant leaf waxes across an elevational gradient in Nepal. Hoffmann et al., 2016 EPSL
Miguel Rincon
Technician. Now technician for the USC Earth Science Department.
Miguel (220x150)
Alexa Sieracki
Earth Sciences Chemistry minor. Graduated Summer 2013. WiSE fellow Provost fellow SOAR funding African paleoclimate. Senior Thesis in 2013: Unraveling our human history: habitats of early hominin evolution. Analysis of the d13C of plant leaf waxes in a marine sediment core.
Research published in Geology in 2013. article
Now at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Dr. Paulina Pinedo
Graduate Student
lab rotation 2011. Diagnosing the products of pyrolysis of methyl iodide – for the lignin methoxyl hydrogen isotope proxy. Published in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. article
Evan Rosca
Undergraduate in Engineering. Lab internship assisting with Peru project.
Evan Rosca (293x400)
Jacob Leonard
Undergraduate in Environmental Science. Lab internship assisting Bernhard Aichner.
Kyle McAhlaney
Undergraduate Chemistry Major. Lab internship assisting with sample processing for the DSDP Site 231 project.
Zhilin (Jeff) Zhang
Petroleum Engineering Masters. Organic Geochemstry internship on Zaca Lake, ANDRILL and DSDP Site 231 projects. Graduated 2012. *Now working for Baker-Hughes, Bakersfield as a Petroleum Engineer.
Megan McDonald
Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate. Field and lab assistant on Zaca Lake project.
Graduated 2012.
*Now working as an engineer and manager
Jack Seeley
Earth Sciences Undergraduate.
SOAR awardee. African tephra. Graduated 2012. Senior Thesis in 2012: hereNow masters student in Ohio.
Susan Oh
Earth Sciences Undergraduate. Avidly reading about geoforensics techniques and applications whilst learning organic geochemistry lab skills.
Graduated 2012.
Now a CPA!
Vincent Nguyen
Biology Undergraduate. Lab internship assisting with sample processing for the DSDP Site 231 project.
Kristan Culbert
Earth Sciences Undergraduate. Graduated from USC December 2011. Field assistant at Carpinteria Salt Marsh and assisting with Zaca sample preparation.
Lesley Petrie
Earth Sciences UndergraduateField assistant at Zaca Lake. *WiSE fellow 2009 *Honorable mention 2010 *Now PhD student at UCSC.
Dr. Isabel Romero
Postdoctoral Researcher
2009-2010. Research published in Organic Geochemistry article
Now postdoctoral researcher in David Hollander’s Lab at USF.