Sarah McFann, PhD

2016 Hertz Fellow
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Sarah McFann is a modeling and simulation scientist at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.

McFann is interested in how early embryos interpret developmental signals. In her doctoral work at Princeton University, McFann employed optogenetics, live microscopy and math modeling to better understand which features of the ERK signal are used by the early fruit fly embryo to specify germ layer fates. This research lays the groundwork for a better understanding of how mutations cause errant ERK signaling in humans, leading to cancers and developmental defects.

She is especially interested in how math modeling and computational techniques can be used to better understand the mechanisms underlying cellular behaviors. She has used math modeling to improve understanding of how cancer mutations affect signaling and to help design a high-throughput method for detecting dynamic signaling events in living cells. During an internship at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she used math modeling to help convert data on infant growth, immunity, and the gut microbiome into global health interventions.

McFann received her BS in chemical engineering from the University of Alabama. As an undergraduate, McFann developed computational cellular models to aid in the optimization of bacterial cells for biobutanol production and designed and built an automated iPad-based microscope and app to inexpensively and effectively track tissue development.

When she isn’t at the microscope or running simulations, McFann enjoys writing. In addition to science communication, she writes fiction and creative nonfiction.

Graduate Studies

Princeton University
Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering
Erk signaling dynamics and their role in germ layer patterning

Undergraduate Studies

University of Alabama

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