Caltech Group

Group Head

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Magdalena carried our her Ph.D. at the University of Warsaw, Poland, under supervision of Andrzej Tarkowski. She came to Cambridge in 1995 to join Martin Evans group with the long-term aim of studying the mechanisms of regulative nature of development and spatial patterning in the mouse embryo. In 1997 she was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship from the Lister Institute to start her independent group at the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute in Cambridge. In 2001 she became a Wellcome Senior Research Fellow. In 2010, she became a Professor of Mammalian Development and Stem Cell Biology. In 1993 she received a Promising Young Scientist Prize from Foundation for Polish Science, in 2001, Young Investigator Award from EMBO, in 2007 she was elected to EMBO membership and in 2013 she became Fellow of British Academy of Medical Science.

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Lab Manager

Post-Doctoral Scientists

Dong-Yuan Chen

Dong-Yuan received his Ph.D from UC Berkeley, where he utilized Drosophila as a model to study the cellular and mechanical mechanisms of organ morphogenesis in David Bilder’s lab. Here at Caltech, he is studying how extra-embryonic tissues shape and pattern the early post-implantation embryo.

Min Bao

Min completed his PhD at the Radboud University in the Netherlands, under the supervision of Prof. Wilhelm Huck, where he worked on the interface of mechanics, physics, and cell biology, sought to understand how geometrical signals, physical properties and biological function affect each other in living cells. Min joined Magda’s group in 2019 to study self-organization principles in synthetic and natural embryos.

Estefania Sanchez-Vasquez

Estefania completed her BSc in Genetics and Biotechnology at the National University of San Marcos (Peru). She did her PhD at the National University of General San Martín (Argentina), working on the epigenetic regulation of microRNA expression during neural crest migration. Estefania joined Magda’s group to work on understanding the origins of patterning and dynamic behaviour of primordial germ cells during early embryogenesis.

Clare Reynell

Clare is our Lab Manager. Clare completed her PhD at University College London in the lab of David Attwell where she studied the signalling pathways involved in neurovascular coupling. She went on to focus in on the study of astrocytes in health, at the university of Montreal, and in pathology, at Cedars-Sinai. Her work in regeneration gave rise to an interest in development that led her to the Zernicka-Goetz lab.

Kate Cavanaugh

Kate completed her PhD in Development, Regeneration, and Stem Cell Biology at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Dr. Margaret Gardel. In her PhD, Kate was interested in the role of physical forces and how they influence cell-cell junction lengths. She specifically used optogenetics to probe junction viscoelasticity in vitro to uncover the underlying mechanics that drive junction morphogenesis. Kate joined Magda’s lab in December 2020 to study the role of polarization timing in lineage allocation.

Hannah Greenfeld

Hannah completed her PhD in Mary Mullins’ lab at the University of Pennsylvania studying how the BMP signaling gradient patterns the dorsal-ventral axis in zebrafish. In 2021, she joined Magdalena’s group at Caltech to investigate BMP signaling patterning cell fates in peri-implantation natural and synthetic mammalian embryos.

Melissa Truong

Melissa completed her PhD at the University of California, San Francisco in Jeremy Reiter’s lab. As a graduate student, she studied how signaling at an organelle called the primary cilium mediates cell fate decisions during development. She will be joining the Zernicka-Goetz lab in 2021 to study subcellular compartmentalization of signaling during pre-implantation development.

Sergi Junyent Espinosa

Sergi Junyent Espinosa
Post-doc, Caltech

Sergi completed his PhD in Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King’s College London (UK), under the supervision of Dr. Shukry Habib. He studied the mechanisms stem cells use to communicate and exchange Wnt signals to self-organize. He joined the MZG Caltech lab in 2022 to study how metabolic transitions enable correct embryo progression.

Paolo Caldarelli

Paolo completed his Ph.D. in Developmental Biology at Pasteur Institute in Paris. During his graduate studies, Paolo used the gastrulating avian embryo to investigate the role of mechanical forces in embryonic self-organization. In January 2022, he joined Magda’s Caltech team to study the mechanical cues steering the mouse and human morphogenesis during gastrulation.  

Charlotte Handford

Charlotte completed her PhD in Magda’s lab in Cambridge, funded by the Centre for Trophoblast Research, researching synthetic models of embryogenesis. She recently joined Magda’s team in Caltech to continue her research.

PhD Students

Victoria Jorgensen

Victoria completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley where she majored in Molecular and Cellular Biology.  While at UC Berkeley, she spent three years in the laboratory of Dr. Elçin Ünal.  Here she investigated the dynamics of gene regulation throughout meiosis in the context of cellular quality control and aging in S. cerevisiae.  Beginning her PhD at Caltech, she is interested in understanding the gene regulatory pathways controlling cellular differentiation during early embryogenesis.

Research Assistant

Jamie Stover

Jamie completed his undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, where he received a degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology while researching calcium signaling in the developing mouse cortex as part of Dr. James Ackman’s lab. After a few years of optimizing a solid-state nanopore detection platform at a startup in Santa Cruz, he joined Magda’s lab at Caltech where he is now developing a microfluidic device to automate pre-implantation human synthetic embryo culture and experimentation.

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Former Group Members

Tongtong Cui (Former Postdoctoral Scientist) Beijing institute of Zoology.

Ying Zhang (Former visiting scientist) PI at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.   

Berna Sozen (Former Postdoctoral Scientist) PI at Yale University.

Andy Cox (Former Lab Manager) Grant Manager at Yale University.    

The Caltech lab was established in August 2019.

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