Meet DEB: Marty Condon

MC and dogs cropped

                      Marty being supervised by Melon, Phoebe, and Max.

Name and Cluster: My name is Marty Condon and I’ve joined the Evolutionary Processes Science cluster as a rotating Program Officer.

Education: B.S. University of Michigan, Ph.D. University of Texas

Home Institution: Cornell College

Tell us about your research: I am a naturalist. I ask who, where, how, and why questions—and focus on “why.” I work on plant-animal interactions involving sexually dimorphic Neotropical cucurbit vines with size-related sex determination. Flowers of the vine are pollinated by hummingbirds and Heliconius butterflies; seeds are dispersed by large bats and are killed by tephritid fruit flies (Blepharoneura). Blepharoneura species are extraordinarily specialized and diverse: most species feed on the calyx of only a single sex flower of only one species of plant. Many cucurbit species are hosts of the flies and some cucurbit species can host more than a dozen species of fly. The flies are parasitized by similarly specialized and diverse lethal parasitic wasps. Most wasps can kill only one species of fly, and most fly species are lethal to all but one species of specialist wasp. So how do the flies and wasps kill each other? Do poorly defended flies escape enemies by switching host plants? Our research currently tests the hypothesis that virulence affects diversification rates.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? NSF funding is critically important for evolutionary and ecological research and made my work possible. I want to serve with NSF because I will learn so much about the funding process. As a panelist on a variety of panels, I learned a lot about the review process and saw how a diversity of voices (including those of us from small liberal arts colleges) can encourage creative science. Now I want to find out what happens before and after panels meet. I look forward to being part of that process.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? The opportunity to read proposals representing the future of science is super exciting, as is the opportunity to work with colleagues in the Division of Environmental Biology and more broadly within NSF. I’m especially interested in encouraging collaboration across areas of science. I firmly believe that advances in biology depend upon the quality of the questions that scientists ask. Ideally, those questions are not constrained by boundaries that are perceived to define disciplines or subsets of disciplines.

Meet DEB: Heather Throop and Bruce Lieberman


Heather Throop

Name and Cluster: My name is Heather Throop and I’ve joined the Ecosystem Science cluster as a rotating Program Officer.

Education: BA, Carleton College; PhD, Stony Brook University

Home Institution: Arizona State University

Tell us about your research: I’m an ecosystem scientist. I am fascinated by exploring how organisms affect larger-scale processes – such as carbon and nutrient cycling – and how these relationships are altered by human activities. I enjoy the inherently interdisciplinary nature of ecosystem science. I somewhat accidentally started working in drylands (arid and semi-arid systems) as a postdoc, and that experience led to me falling hopelessly in love with drylands and the organisms that eke out a living in these harsh environments. Most of my current work explores relationships among plants, soils, and carbon cycle processes in drylands, with a focus on how these relationships are altered by management activities and global change. One of my other passions is sharing excitement about science through teaching and mentoring. Despite their global and societal importance, drylands often are often underappreciated. I enjoy collaborating on programs that promote science education, appreciation, and research related to drylands.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? One of my favorite things about science is that our culture is to spend a lot of time helping each other through the peer review process. I am grateful for how peer review has strengthened my own science and I also appreciate how much I have learned as a reviewer. Participating in NSF panels has made me realize how well NSF manages the review process – and I’ve also found panels to be exciting, challenging, high-energy, and generally a lot of fun. I am excited by the opportunity to dive deeper into NSF to better understand how the review process is managed, expand my understanding of large-scale and interdisciplinary science programs, and to serve the scientific community.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I am really excited to have the opportunity to work with such a fantastic group of people who are dedicated to supporting science research and education. I am particularly looking forward to helping NSF support early career investigators and activities that help broaden participation in science. On the non-science side, I’m excited to spend time with my nieces and nephew in DC. Given the current pandemic situation, we’re all working remotely at this point and I haven’t moved to Alexandria. I’m looking forward to the time when we can be back in person and faces in Zoom squares will turn into real-life humans!

Bruce Lieberman Chalk Rock: 2017

Bruce Lieberman

Name and Cluster: My name is Bruce S. Lieberman and I’ve joined the Systematics and Biodiversity Science cluster as a rotating Program Officer.

Education: AB, Harvard College; MA and PhD, Columbia University

Home Institution: University of Kansas

Tell us about your research: I study the history of life in order to reconstruct the patterns and processes of evolution. My research emphasizes gaining insight into macroevolution using phylogenetic and biogeographic approaches. I am especially interested in using the study of the history of life preserved in the fossil record to contribute to our understanding of evolutionary theory. I specialize in fossil arthropods, particularly trilobites, but have worked with other marine invertebrate groups as well.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? I have been extremely grateful for the funding that NSF has provided me, and I wanted to be able to give back to NSF through service. Further, I was very impressed by the quality and knowledge of the individuals that work at NSF. I am also fascinated with the past and present diversity of life, how we reconstruct its evolutionary history, and the topic of macroevolution, and NSF is the key organization that supports research in these areas. I wanted to learn more about all of the exciting research in these areas being supported by NSF and all of the ways that NSF is working to convey knowledge about scientific discoveries to the general public.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I am looking forward to working with colleagues in the Division of Environmental Biology, in general, and the Systematics and Biodiversity Science cluster, in particular. I am also looking forward to being able to contribute my knowledge in the area of macroevolution and to help support it as a fundamental part of the Systematics and Biodiversity Science cluster. In addition, I am looking forward to helping facilitate broader impacts in systematics.




Meet DEB: Ashley Le-Pham, Elizabeth Banda Cruz, and Bill Lawson


Ashley Le-Pham

What is your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Ashley Le-Pham, and I’m the newest Biologist to join DEB! My roles in DEB are pretty far and wide, but my primary responsibility is to assist in the merit review process by way of helping produce panel summaries, analyzing programmatic data, and being involved with outreach to the scientific community and the public.

How did you find out about NSF?

I first heard of NSF as an undergraduate researcher at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). I proudly displayed the NSF logo whenever I presented my research as NSF was our main source of funding. As for how I came to NSF for work, I was originally a Science Assistant in the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, another division in BIO! I loved my time so much at NSF and knew I would want to stay here long-term (Science Assistants are on 2-year appointments). DEB hired me at the end of my science assistantship and the rest is history! Sometimes it still feels like a dream that I work at the National Science Foundation, and I am so happy to be here.

Tell us a little about what you studied in school.

At CSUF, I pursued a major in Biochemistry and a minor in Piano Performance. It was really cool to start my day by exercising my classical piano skills and then transition to more difficult chemistry classes in the afternoon. Studying metabolism was definitely the highlight of my undergraduate studies—it’s so interesting! My undergraduate research involved studying the critical starch-producing enzyme ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase and I studied this enzyme from the bacterial organism Deinococcus radiodurans in an effort to increase starch yield.

Cats or dogs?

Ooof. This is a hard question! I think for my current life stage, a cat would be better suited for me because of their independence and low maintenance. But I do love dogs because they are always so happy to be with you. Right now, I have my family dog with me (pictured here) in DC. She’s super low-maintenance, independent, and a great companion. I really do have the best of both worlds!



Is a hotdog a sandwich?

I think officially and logically, a hotdog is a sandwich. But will I ever verbally call a hotdog a sandwich? Never!


Elizabeth Banda Cruz

What is your name and role here at DEB?

I’m Elizabeth Banda Cruz and I’m a Program Assistant in DEB. I primarily support the Ecosystem Science and Population and Community Ecology clusters. More broadly, I help with travel documents, meeting schedules, panel preparations and during-panel tasks.

How did you find out about NSF?

Growing up with PBS Kids is probably how I first heard about NSF. However, I heard of an opportunity to work here from a friend I met in Eswatini while serving as a community health volunteer with the Peace Corps.

Tell us a little about what you studied in school.

I studied Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. I found Medical Anthropology most interesting as it aims to better understand the different factors that influence health and wellness.

Cats or dogs?

I am definitely more of a dog person. Especially huskies!

If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life what would it be?

Impossible to choose just one!


Bill Lawson

What is your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Bill Lawson, and I’m a Program Assistant in DEB. I am responsible for the general logistics surrounding hosting panels, travel for staff and visitors, and other administrative support tasks.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m from Southern Maryland and grew up around the Delmarva area. I’m a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Mozambique, 2017-2019) with a B.S in Biology and a B.A. in International Studies with a minor in Chemistry from Virginia Wesleyan University. Soccer is my great passion and I enjoy playing, watching, and even coaching it on occasion.

Who do you cheer for?

I’m with the sky blue, Manchester City! As a kid, I wanted to root against my father, who is a Manchester United fan. Not being old enough to know that their rivals were actually Liverpool, I chose Manchester City to support, and we’ve been watching the derby ever since.

Anything else?

I have a particular love for quotes, and I wanted to share the following:

“I didn’t want to just know the names of things. I remember really wanting to know how it all worked.” -Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 Nobel Prize winner for Physiology or Medicine








Meet DEB: Matthew Herron


Heidi helping her human, Matthew Herron.

Name: Matthew Herron

Education: BA and MS University of Central Florida, PhD University of Arizona

Home Institution: Georgia Institute of Technology

Tell us about your research: I study the so-called “major evolutionary transitions” using a combination of experimental, comparative, theoretical, and philosophical approaches. My main focus is on the evolution of multicellularity in the volvocine green algae (Volvox and its relatives). The ancestors of this group made the transition to multicellular life relatively recently, and living species span a wide range of sizes and degrees of complexity, from single-celled Chlamydomonas to multicellular organisms with tens of thousands of differentiated cells in the genus Volvox. This diversity makes them a great system for comparative studies, especially since many of the traits related to multicellular complexity appear to have evolved more than once within the group.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? I have enjoyed serving on review panels, and each time I have been impressed by the thoroughness and fairness of the NSF review process. I also love learning about research outside of my field. Proposals reflect the absolute leading edge within their disciplines, and in biology, that edge is expanding so quickly that work being proposed today often would have been impossible only a few years ago. During review panels and during my interview, it seemed that everyone I met was sincerely happy to be here, and that impression hasn’t changed since I arrived.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I look forward to meeting and interacting with biologists across a wide range of subdisciplines and learning about their research. I’m excited to join a team of people dedicated to advancing the science of evolutionary biology and having some input on the direction it takes. It also happens that Alexandria is much closer to my family than anywhere I’ve lived before, so I look forward to spending more time with them.


Meet DEB: Ford Ballantyne and Diana Pilson


Ford Ballantyne

What’s your name and role here at DEB? My Name is Ford Ballantyne, and I am a rotating Program Officer with the Ecosystem Sciences Cluster.

Where did you go to school? I earned a BS in Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my MS in Statistics at the University of New Mexico, and my PhD in Biology at the University of New Mexico.

Where is your home institution? University of Georgia.

Tell us about your research. I use a combination of theoretical and empirical approaches to understand how smaller scale processes generate whole ecosystem phenomena. I am particularly interested in linking microbial metabolism to biogeochemical cycles. Past and ongoing projects include studying the influence of environmental conditions on the decomposition of organic matter in terrestrial and aquatic environments, linking whole community patterns of gene expression to changes in the composition of dissolved organic carbon, and quantifying the response of whole stream metabolism to variation in environmental conditions across latitude.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? I was drawn to the Program Officer position because I wanted to be part of the collaborative atmosphere at NSF and to serve the broader scientific community. I like helping others succeed, and I like to contribute to collective endeavors. NSF is a great place to do both.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I look forward to learning about all the research that is supported by the Ecosystems Cluster and DEB as a whole, and to contributing to discussions about new funding initiatives and future directions for ecological science. I love to read science and talk about ideas, and I am eager to read the many proposals that the Ecosystems Cluster will review and to be a part of the intellectually stimulating discussion of proposed research during panels.

Pilson for blog.jpg

Diana Pilson

What’s your name and role here at DEB? My name is Diana Pilson, and I am a rotating Program Officer in the Population and Community Ecology Cluster.

Where did you go to school? I earned a B.S. in Biology from Tufts University and my Ph.D. in Zoology from Duke University.

Where is your home institution? My home institution is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I am in the School of Biological Sciences.

Tell us about your research. I am a plant evolutionary ecologist, and I am broadly interested in how environmental variation and species interactions affect (and are in turn affected by) the outcomes of natural selection. Over my career I have worked on the population biology and evolution of plant-insect interactions (from both the plant and insect perspective), potential fitness effects and ecological consequences of the escape of transgenic insect and virus resistance into wild populations, and effects of seed production and disturbance on local colonization and extinction dynamics. I recently completed a several-year stint as an Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. I am now excited to be doing science again, and I just initiated a study of flower color and demography in Calochortus eurycarpus (Liliaceae).

Why do you want to serve with NSF? In the Dean’s Office I enjoyed both the collaborative nature of the work and the bigger-scale view I had of the University. Here at NSF I am expecting a similar experience. The collaborative work will be fun: over the last 20+ years I have served on many NSF panels, and every time I learned a lot, met interesting and smart people, and been impressed with the care and thought that everyone put into proposal evaluation. And, I am looking forward to getting a bigger scale look at (and contributing to) current and future directions in ecology and evolution.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I expect that contributing to the future of our science from inside NSF will be challenging, enlightening, and gratifying. Plus, living in Alexandria, far from the heartland, for a while will be an exciting change of pace.


Meet DEB: Chris Balakrishnan


We didn’t hire the bird, we hired the person holding the bird. Photo Credit: Rhett Butler (different Rhett Butler)

What’s your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Chris Balakrishnan and I am a rotating Program Officer with the Evolutionary Processes Cluster.

Where did you go to school?

I received my undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania and my Ph.D. in biology from Boston University.

Where is your home institution?

East Carolina University.

Tell us about your research.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a dabbler. The main themes in my research are birds & their DNA (and RNA). Beyond that I’m interested in fundamental aspects of how genomes evolve and how species form, but also more mechanistic questions about how the brain and immune system function in ecological and evolutionary contexts. I primarily study birds as they offer wonderful opportunities to study the evolution of complex social behaviors. I’m particularly interested in those species that display unusual (wacky) behaviors. These avian oddities provide an opportunity to understand evolutionary changes in behavior. As an example, some of my work focuses on brood parasitic birds. Unlike most birds, brood parasitic birds don’t provide any parental care to their young. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species. Brood parasitism has evolved seven times independently in birds and I’m interested in how and why this happened. The hope is that these studies will inform our understanding of the causes of variation in parental care behavior and the processes that lead to major behavioral innovations.

Why do you want to serve with NSF?

Prior to interviewing for my position here, I hadn’t really thought much about serving as a Program Officer. What had struck me though was that colleagues that had spent time here were uniform in that they truly loved the experience. Upon interviewing I really began to see why they enjoyed NSF so much and my interview convinced me that this was going to be a wonderful experience. I expect that being part of the proposal review process will be highly rewarding, and I really look forward to interacting with a large group of colleagues.  I’m excited to work with the dynamic and diverse group of people here and to gain this new experience. Selfishly, I know that exposure to all of the exciting work being done at NSF will help my research career as well. I’m also looking to complete a lifetime sweep of living in all of the major northeastern cities. In addition to New York, Philadelphia & Boston, I’m happy to add DC to the list (technically, I live in Alexandria though so maybe it doesn’t count). Baltimore, you are next!

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF?

First and foremost, I’m really looking forward to the stimulating discussions that surround the proposal review process. Additionally, however, it seems like I’m entering NSF in the midst of a lot of interesting changes aimed at enhancing integration among subdisciplines in biology. I’m truly looking forward to seeing how these and other new programs develop.


Meet DEB: Amanda Ingram


Ingram_Amanda headshot 2016

Amanda Ingram

What’s your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Amanda Ingram and I’m a rotating Program Officer in the Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster.

Where did you go to school?

I earned a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science from The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA and my Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Cornell University

Where is your home institution?

Wabash College, a small liberal arts college in Indiana.

Tell us about your research.

My main line of research involves understanding the evolutionary relationships among species of Eragrostis, commonly known as the lovegrasses. This is a fascinating and diverse group of C4 grasses—many species are polyploids, morphological and anatomical diversity abounds, and they grow in (and therefore must be collected in!) all sorts of interesting places. The genus also contains a cereal crop, tef, which is incredibly important in Ethiopian agriculture and is the grain of choice for making injera. I also dabble in educational and science communication research and mentor undergraduate research projects investigating mycorrhizal associations in orchids native to Indiana.

Why do you want to serve with NSF?

NSF has supported me at every key stage of my career, so I’m excited to give back to the Foundation and to help support our research community. I’ve also loved the time I’ve spent serving on panels over the years. Finally, I’m thrilled to be fully immersed in systematics research again—at my home institution, I spend a lot of time thinking and teaching broadly about a wide range of biological topics, so I’m looking forward to the time to focus on my true scientific passions while working closely with my colleagues in SBS.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF?

I’m looking forward to getting an insider’s perspective on how science policy is shaped, learning more about how funding decisions are made, and experiencing first-hand the wonderful NSF culture I’ve heard so much about. Plus, I’m excited to have a break from small-town life to enjoy lovely Alexandria.


Meet DEB: Matt Olson


Merry with her human, Matt Olson.

What’s your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Matt Olson and I am a rotating Program Officer with the Evolutionary Processes Cluster.

Where did you go to school?

I earned a B.S. University of Texas, Austin, M.S. Louisiana State University, and my Ph.D. at Duke University.

Where is your home institution?       

Texas Tech University.

Tell us about your research.

I am an evolutionary ecologist, which means that I study how genetic and ecological factors influence how a species will change over time. My current scientific interests aim to understand how sex chromosomes (like the male Y chromosome) evolve in plants. Sex chromosomes are found in less than 5% of all plants, and in most cases, they have evolved very recently. Because they are young, we can study the formative stages of sex chromosome evolution including how they move around the genome and how ecological factors may influence their development. My work leverages a mix of ecology, genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology, so it is always very exciting and integrative. I often must collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines. One of my current collaborations is with colleagues in Chengdu and Nanjing, China, which has provided some great opportunities for both scientific and cultural exchange.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? 

Since I served on my first grant review panel, I have been impressed with the efficient, transparent, and ethical character of the NSF. I am keen to learn more about how the foundation functions, so that I can apply these ideals more broadly to other aspects of my work and personal life. I also have been fortunate to have several of my proposals funded by the NSF, and I would like to give back to the organization by serving in a more administrative role. Finally, I hope to draw on my experience as a scientist and teacher to help steer the foundation as we move into the future.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? 

I love working and exchanging ideas with other scientists. The National Science Foundation not only helps scientists to realize their goals via funding, but also serves as a nexus for interaction during panel reviews, site visits, and outreach. I am looking forward to meeting the large number of scientists that will be coming to the NSF during my rotation here and talking with them about their research and our common scientific interests. Who knows? Maybe we will come up with a new collaborative research idea that will solve some of the worlds’ great challenges!

Meet DEB: Megan Lewis and Michelle Bonilla


Megan at the circular terraces at Moray in Peru



What is your name and role here at DEB?

I’m Megan Lewis and I’m a Program Analyst, which means I provide data analytics for the division as well as provide in-panel support.

How did you find out about NSF?

I’ve been working at NSF for over 3 years at this point, but prior to that I didn’t know much about it. I was looking for an internship with the federal government that focused on environmental biology and solving environmental issues through science rather than policy. NSF allowed me to learn what PIs were doing to understand these issues and how to solve them.

Tell us a little about what you studied in school.

I studied Biology at my undergraduate university with a minor in Environmental Studies. My focus was on ecology and biodiversity conservation. After which, I obtained my master’s in Environmental Resource Policy as well as a graduate certificate in Geographic Information Systems. My capstone project was an in-depth review of global shark conservation policies for a global non-profit.

Cats or dogs?

Doggos. I have a slightly neurotic mutt named Marshall whom I adopted almost 3 years ago.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

My first job at NSF was working for DEB as a Winter Student in the Arlington, VA building. Due to the limited appointment type, I transferred over to MCB (Molecular and Cellular Biosciences) as a Program Assistant and finally a Program Specialist. I’m excited to come back to DEB after some time away.


Michelle visiting her family in Honduras.

What is your name and role here at DEB?

I’m Michelle Bonilla and I am a Program Assistant (PA) and I am learning all about the process of setting up panels, handling travel, logistics, and all the other tasks PAs are responsible for.

How did you find out about NSF?

I found out about the NSF through and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to learn and grow, professionally. Thank you, NSF, for this opportunity!

Tell us a little about what you’re studying in school.

I am currently working towards finishing my undergrad in Psychology with a minor in Forensic Psychology at Marymount University.

Cats or dogs?

Both! They both have different traits that make them unique and special.

Which member of the Scooby-Doo gang do you most identify with?

Daphne! I love fashion and anything that involves solving a crime or case. Who says you can’t be fashion forward and solve mysteries at the same time?


Meet DEB: Paco Moore


Behind Paco is the town of Longyearbyen (administered by Norway).

Name: Paco Moore

Education: Michigan State University. Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, B.S. Zoology, B.S. Interdepartmental Biology.

Home Institution: The University of Akron

Tell us about your research,

I am a systems biologist interested in the forces structuring scale dependent patterns and emergent properties. I am particularly interested in evolution of complex traits in structured environments. I do not have a particular research system but enjoy working across systems. I have worked with fish, tetrapods, crustaceans, vascular and non-vascular plants, eubacteria, fungi, and protists. My work is primarily lab based but also has small field, theory and bioinformatic components. My studies usually fall in what I would call evolutionary genetics, but at times my questions have led me into systematics, community and ecosystem ecology, animal behavior, development, anatomy, physiology and biomaterials research. The greatest privilege of my life has been to receive the support of my home department in a career that has sacrificed total productivity in search of the broadest possible view. If I were to look for a single lesson from my research it is that the question is not if, but how much, the dynamics of a system are altered by interactions we have not been exploring.

What made you want to serve NSF?

I enjoy the idea that I can help the environmental biology research community by giving back some of the mentorship I have been shown over the last 30 years. DEB tends to have a unique blend of researchers that often receive some of their funding from outside DEB. I relish the opportunity to nurture the development of the community’s core interests and progress in DEB science while also supporting the community in its exploration of those interdisciplinary links that help forge new directions in environmental biology. In a vibrant, dynamic field like ours, investigators at all career stages benefit from communication with their colleagues, be it through mentorship, discussion, or even debate and NSF supports and listens to that communication. Service at NSF will therefore also allow me to better understand the driving questions and ambitions of what I find to be the most engaging field of study, ecology and evolutionary biology.

What are you most looking forward to during your tenure at NSF?

First and foremost, I look forward to interacting with our community. I see a major portion of my job is to provide information on the logistics, limitations and priorities of various funding opportunities. The flip side of discussing opportunity is the discussion of failed proposals, and it might seem to be a less than rewarding part of the job. However, when informed by a program officer’s knowledge of the decision process, a discussion of declined proposals is perhaps the best door for an investigator into understanding how to succeed. For this reason, I look forward to discussions with the community at all stages of the funding process.

My second most anticipated activity during my time at NSF is to help promote research that elucidates the dynamics that lead to scale dependent pattern and emergent properties. New funding opportunities both within and across divisions (e.g. Rules of Life, Bridging Ecology and Evolution) provide an incentive to the community to explore the space between disciplines that will alter pattern and dynamics across scales. I am excited to be back at NSF at a time when I can help nurture the DEB community as it determines the directions that these new programs will take.