PLA group


half the group, above the bay
at the lab… and above the bay
at the beach with the JArnold groupFort Bragg camping
Postdoctoral Researchers 
Dr. Rachel Meyer PhD
Rachel graduated from Hood College in 2015 with a B.A. in Chemistry. In 2021, she received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Rochester under the supervision of Prof. Ellen Matson. Her graduate research focused on the incorporation of secondary metals into polyoxovanadate-alkoxides. She spent a year of her graduate studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory under the advisement of Dr. Stosh Kozimor through the DOE Office of Science Graduate Research Program. Rachel joined Prof. Polly Arnold’s group in June 2021 and is currently studying actinyl reduction and metalation with applications in quantum information storage. Outside of lab, Rachel enjoys hiking, baking, and solving jigsaw puzzles.
Dr. Anthony Wong PhD
Anthony received his B.Sc. in chemistry from UCSB in 2016. He loved the beach so much that he decided to spend another five years there for his Ph.D. under Dr. Gabriel Ménard. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Polly Arnold group, studying f-block metal-metal bonding and its influence on reactivity. Outside of the lab, he enjoys hiking, tennis, nature, food, anime, and everything chemistry, especially cheesy chemistry jokes.

Mikaela Pyrch PhD

Mikaela completed her bachelor and master’s degree at The George Washington University. After her time on the east coast, she moved to The University of Iowa where she received her PhD working with Dr. Tori Forbes studying the structural characteristics and vibrational properties of the uranyl and neptunyl cation. Now on the west coast, Mikaela is a current postdoc in the Polly Arnold group, where she is continuing to study the f-block for applications in quantum information storage. Outside of lab Mikaela enjoys swimming, water polo, cooking, and spending time with her dog and cat.

Dr. Elias Tanuhadi PhD
Elias originally hails from Vienna, Austria, where he completed his PhD studies on the synthesis and characterization of new metal-oxo clusters as homogeneous catalysts in the lab of Prof. Annette Rompel. To broaden his synthetic and cultural horizons, Elias came to Berkeley to join Prof. Polly Arnold’s group as a post-doctoral researcher, focusing on the rich speciation chemistry, stability, and reactivity of rare earth alkyl complexes. Outside of the lab, Elias loves to explore California’s diverse nature and embarks on culinary adventures in Berkeley on his Heelys.

Megan Keener

Megan received her B.Sc. in chemistry from CSU Chico in 2015. She then obtained her Ph.D. in 2020 under the supervision of Dr. Gabriel Ménard, where she found a love for the f-elements. After, she moved across the world and pursued her first postdoctoral fellowship with Marinella Mazzanti at EPFL in Switzerland, working with highly-reactive f-element complexes. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow with Polly Arnold, and is working toward understanding the reactivity and bonding interactions of the transuranic elements. Outside of the lab, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, and riding her mountain bike. 
Graduate Students

Nick Katzer
Originally from Santa Barbara, Nick received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC San Diego in June 2020. At UCSD he developed surface-initiated polymerization techniques to improve performance of lithium metal batteries under the guidance of Prof. Ping Liu. After moving to Berkeley to complete his tour of the California coast, he joined the PLA Group in fall 2021 and is currently studying the synthesis of organometallics of the transuranic elements, as well as actinyl oxo-functionalization. Outside of the lab Nick can usually be found at the crag or out backpacking. He also “enjoys” running and trying out unusual stouts and sours.
Gretchen Brown
Originally from New Jersey, Gretchen received her undergraduate degree in chemistry and women and gender studies from Boston College in May of 2021. As an undergraduate, she studied iron-catalyzed N-carboxyanhydride polymerization with Prof. Jeffery Byers. She currently works on C-H/C-element activation with cerium complexes. Outside of the lab, she enjoys reading, baking, and trying new arts and crafts.
David Fiszbein
David was born in New Mexico before moving to Ithaca, New York to be cold and study chemistry at Cornell. After enough cold weather, he moved out west to continue doing chemistry somewhere he could see the sun. He now investigates actinyl-ligand multiple bonding and covalency in f-block tris(pyrazolyl)borate complexes. During his non-billable hours, he enjoys rock-climbing and boba.
Matt Hernandez
Matt hails from Ft. Lauderdale, FL and received his BS in Chemistry and MS in Civil & Environmental Engineering from Stanford University in 2018. After school, he worked on synthesizing polyamine curing agents for chemically recyclable polymers at a materials science startup. He spent the next few years working for an East Bay biotech company synthesizing bio-inspired epoxy resin monomers. Matt joined Polly’s group in Fall 2021 and is investigating the catalytic activity of bimetallic group IV and f-block complexes in dinitrogen reduction reactions. Outside the lab, Matt enjoys surfing at Ocean Beach, skiing in the Sierra, and mountain biking all around the Bay Area.
Gabe Herrera
Gabe was born in southern Mexico but grew up in Houston. He received his BA from New York University in 2021 where he studied Chemistry and Bioethics. Gabe is currently working under the mentorships of Prof. Polly Arnold and Prof. John Hartwig, studying oxo-group chemistry of actinyl compounds for catalytic C-H/C-element bond activation and artificial metalloenzymes. In his free time, Gabe enjoys hanging out with his pugs. 

Jaden Lara
Jaden grew up in San Diego county and received a BS in Chemistry from UCSD in 2022. There, he worked with tin-capped tri-nuclear nickel clusters for applications in electrochemical CO2 reduction. He is currently studying catalytic dinitrogen reduction with bimetallic f-block complexes. Outside of chemistry, Jaden enjoys trying new foods, lifting weights, playing video games, and occasionally backpacking or hiking.

Piper Cooke

Piper Cooke (he/she/they) was born in Livermore, CA before heading down to Santa Barbara to study chemistry at UCSB. After graduating in 2022, they left the warm beaches for home to spend a gap year working at LLNL. He joined Polly’s group in Fall 2023, co-advised by the Minasian group, and now works on oxo-group chemistry of actinyls and actinide oxide material synthesis. She spends her free time with her partner, buying too many board games, and taking plenty of naps.

Cam Conour

Cam grew up in Oakland, California and received his B.S. in Chemistry from UC Santa Cruz in 2023. As an undergraduate, he studied the use of MOF’s for the removal of aqueous pollutants as well as the characterization of monomeric stibene-oxides. Unable to survive real weather, he remained in California and joined the PLA group in 2023, studying covalency in transuranic organometallics. Outside of lab, Cam can be found at the gym or hanging out with friends.

Anna Bair

Originally from Jackson, Michigan, Anna obtained her degree in chemistry (with a focus in chemical physics) at MIT in 2023. While there, she worked on selenium analogues of iron-sulfur clusters and with electronically variable N-heterocyclic carbenes. These days, she investigates the synthesis and kinetics of lanthanide-alkyl complexes, and bimetallic f-block complexes for dinitrogen and other small molecule activation. If not in lab, she can probably be found doing combat sports or something spooky.

Beck Neal

Originally hailing from rural Northern Nevada, Beck completed his B.S. in chemistry in 2023 at the University of Nevada, Reno with Dr. Bettencourt-Dias, studying unique outer-sphere coordination complexes of lanthanide salts with triazine-based ligands. His interest in f-block chemistry followed him to graduate school at UC Berkeley, where he is jointly advised by Dr. Polly Arnold and Dr. Stefan Minasian. His current research focuses on the synthesis and characterization of Ln(II)/An(II) molecular spin qubits. Outside the lab, his interests include creating fish-based artwork and tending to his aquariums.

Undergraduate Researchers

Yanlin Liu:
Yanlin was born in Shanghai, China. He is an undergraduate from class of 2023, majoring in Chemical Biology. He joined PLA Group during his sophomore year because he thought working with uranium is super cool. He is now working on synthesizing new ligands for uranyl complexes and using the uranyl complexes to do photocatalysis to activate C-H bonds. During the leisure time, Yanlin loves to play the classical guitar, watch animations, and play board games with friends. He recently set up a saltwater aquarium in his room.
Rupal Nimaiyar

Rupal grew up in Sunnyvale, which is in the South Bay and about an hour from Berkeley. She is an undergraduate majoring in Chemistry in the class of 2026. In the lab, she is going to be working on synthesizing new pentalene-based ligands for f-block organometallics. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, calligraphy, trying out new Berkeley restaurants, and playing pop songs on the piano.

Jimmy Liu
Jimmy grew up in Changzhou, China. He transferred from UC Irvine to UC Berkeley in his junior year and is now an undergraduate majoring in Chemistry in the class of 2025. In the lab, he is currently working on synthesizing new types of H4mTP^R ligands for the N2 reduction project. Outside of study and research, he spends a lot of time doing photography and playing overwatch. 

Polly is a faculty professor in the Chemistry department at University of California, Berkeley and the Director of the Chemical Sciences Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL). She obtained her degrees from Oxford and Sussex in the UK, and was a Fulbright postdoctoral fellow at MIT before returning to the UK to an assistant professorship in 1999. Her academic career in the UK progressed through associate professorship at the University of Nottingham, then at the University of Edinburgh where she held the Crum Brown Chair of chemistry before moving to California in 2019.

She made the film ‘A Chemical Imbalance’, a call to action for simple changes to achieve equality of opportunity in science, and was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honors list in 2018 for her contributions to chemistry and women in STEM; A Chemical Imbalance. Recent media work: BBC’s Infinite Monkey Cage; BBC’s Brainwaves.

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