Dr. Phillip Barden, originally from New Mexico and Arizona, is an evolutionary biologist interested in social insects and their fossil record. Dr. Barden received his bachelor's degree from Arizona State University, his PhD from the American Museum of Natural History, and completed his NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship at Rutgers University. He is involved in projects centered around patterns of diversity, ecological impact, and the evolution of complex behavior in some of nature’s greatest success stories: ants and termites. His uses social insects and fossil amber as systems for testing concepts related to the integration of paleontological and genetic data, as well as new analytical pipelines. [CV] [Webpage]

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Ninon Robin – Postdoctoral Researcher (Fulbright Laureate)

Ninon Robin is an invertebrate palaeontologist and a Fulbright-funded visiting scholar working to understand the evolution of termite microsymbionts. Formerly at the Paris Museum of Natural History, France, Ninon’s research broadly focuses on the understanding of species associations in ancient time, preserved as fossils. In 2014, she received à FWIS (L’Oréal-UNSECO) grant supporting her PhD research on fossil marine symbioses. Since 2016, her post-doctoral research focuses on the analysis of interactions between aquatic or terrestrial invertebrates and different fossil hosts or substrates, attempting to address the evolution of these relationships over time (scavenging, predation, symbiosis, parasitism). [ResearchGate Website] [Fulbright Link]


Christine Sosiak - PHD Student

Originally from Canada, Christine’s passion for ants has taken her across her home province of Alberta, to Mozambique, California, and most recently, New Jersey. She received bachelor of science degrees in biology and geology from the University of Calgary while working on projects in education, ant ecology, and vertebrate paleontology. Following her undergraduate career, Christine was a visiting curator of ants at the University of California: Riverside and a biodiversity consultant for the Calgary Zoological Society. Christine is interested in the faunal turnover between the earliest ants and their modern relatives, which occurred approximately 65 million years ago. In addition, she is passionate about science education and mentorship. 


Renato Nunes - Laboratory Technician

Renato Nunes was born in Brazil but grew up in Newark. He went to Essex Community College and earned his associate’s degree in biology before transferring to Rutgers-Newark. He soon began working in Dr. Jessica Ware’s lab as a new undergraduate, focusing on the phylogenetics and biogeography of Polythoridae, a family of damselflies. His undergraduate research project involved novel applications of a mitochondrial gene for use in phylogenetics. During his undergraduate career, Renato participated in LSAMP (the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) to promote minority participation in STEM, and worked at the American Museum of Natural History with Dr. Susan Perkins on systematics of bird malaria on an REU. He will be starting a Ph.D. in fall 2019 at the City University of New York with Dr. David Lohman working on the systematics and biogeography of butterflies.  


Hajar Elalam – Undergraduate Researcher

Hajar graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a mathematics minor from Rutgers University - Newark. In the lab, she most recently completed a project analyzing amber fragments from various geological time periods to quantify the change in their physical properties over millions of years. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Hajar has plans to continue pursuing a career in material science. 



Chloe grew up in both Nebraska and New Jersey and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biology at NJIT. She is working on an independent comparative morphology project, and her long-term interests lie in evolutionary biology, ecology, paleontology, and anthropology. In addition to her work in the lab, Chloe is an accomplished student athlete and represents the University in distance events as part of the NJIT Track and Field team. Chloe was recently awarded a Provost Summer Research Fellowship from the NJIT Undergraduate Research and Innovation (URI) Program. You can see Chloe’s digital poster from the 2018 Entomology Society of America Joint Annual Meeting in Vancouver [here].



Andre Pugliese is a third year student at NJIT. He is currently pursuing a degree in Computer Science major as well as minoring in Biology. Andre's work in the lab involves analyzing satellite images and studying the patterns of large social insect colonies within geographical snapshots over time. Outside of the lab Andre enjoys tending to his aquarium collection. 



Xavier is originally from Little Ferry, New Jersey and a sophomore in the Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT majoring in Biology. Prior to joining the lab, Xavier worked on the pharmaceutical kinetics of drugs targeting macular degeneration and the architectural history of religious shrines in ancient Rome. Currently, he is an Honors Summer Research Institute Fellow focusing on the distribution of ecological niches in an island biogeographic context. Xavier is passionate about the creative arts and poetry and hopes to integrate these elements into his scientific research.



Nitya is a third-year undergraduate at NJIT pursuing a double major in Biology and Mathematical Sciences. She has previously presented on the Modeling of Nanoparticle Movement in the Bloodstream for Targeted Therapy as part of the NJIT Provost Summer Research Program, which was done under Dr. Shahriar Afkhami. Nitya joined the Barden Lab as a volunteer in the Fall of 2018. She is now pursuing an independent study focusing on social parasitism as it is related to morphospace in various species of ants. Nitya also volunteers as a math tutor at the Math Tutoring Center, and as a Peer Learning Assistant for the Foundation of Ecology and Evolution course in the Federated Department of Biology between NJIT and Rutgers University - Newark. She is an active member of the National Biology Fraternity (Beta Psi Omega) and the National Service Fraternity (Alpha Phi Omega), and is also involved in Habitat for Humanity. Nitya is broadly interested in epidemiology and genetics as it relates to evolution, as well as the mathematical aspects of biology. She can be reached at ns726 [at]!


Amina SIraj – Undergraduate Researcher

Amina was born in the United States but grew up in Bangladesh. After completing high school in Bangladesh, Amina attended community college in New Jersey before ultimately attending NJIT. She expects to graduate in 2020 with a Bachelor in Biology and is broadly interested in both evolutionary and molecular biology. Recently, Amina was awarded a McNair summer research fellowship at NJIT and is working to better understand morphological evolution through ants and amber. She is very enthusiastic, dedicated, and hard working. Amina would like to pursue her PhD and dreams of becoming a professor in future.


Jonathan Rey A. Trinidad – postbac Researcher

Jonathan recently graduated from Rutgers University–Newark with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a double minor in Chemistry and Mathematics. He has previously worked on an independent project working to analyze the morphology of endemic and invasive ant species localized in Guyana. Jonathan has also worked as a research associate in the Reiner Lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he focused on circadian rhythms and chronomodulated radiotherapy in collaboration with Professor Casey Diekman at NJIT.  He recently completed a Cancer Systems Biology course at University of California, Irvine in the Center of Complex Biological Systems. He is currently working as a research associate under Prof. Casey Diekman for the C2-BRIP program, mentoring Essex County College students about mathematical modeling of circadian rhythms and cancer. In the fall of 2019 He will be pursuing his PhD at Rutgers University-Newark at the Etchegaray Lab. Jonathan enjoys singing in church choirs in his free time. He can be reached at jrt35 [at]!


Alan Chen – High School Researcher

Alan is a senior at Livingston High school broadly interested in pursuing a career in biology. Recently, he was awarded a Provost summer internship at NJIT. In the lab, Alan works to understand the relationship between living and fossil ant communities through morphometrics. Alan is also first stand cellist, the president of the Julius C Bernstein chapter of the National Honor Society, and a left tackle on his varsity football team. 

Current Openings

The lab is currently expanding, with opportunities in the following positions:

  • Graduate Student (PhD/MS)

  • Undergraduate Intern/Researcher

  • Postdoctoral Researcher

If you would like to know more about joining the lab, please email barden [at] with your research interests and previous experience. If you're a student with no previous research experience, that's OK! Students and postdocs who are interested in social insects, paleoentomology, X-ray imaging, or comparative genomics are especially encouraged to apply.


Ciara Mae Mendoza – Lab Technician 2017-2018 – currently PhD student at NYU

Hala Abbas [NJIT] – Undergraduate Researcher 2018