The Georgia Tech Alumni Association has released its annual list of young graduates working to change our world, with six College of Sciences alumni from three schools among those honored in the 2021 class of the Tech’s 40 Under 40.
The program, launched last year, seeks to recognize and celebrate Georgia Tech alumni under the age of 40 who have innovated industries and positively impacted communities across the globe.
As the Alumni Association notes, “Georgia Tech’s impact reaches every industry, every part of the globe, and every aspect of people’s lives through the work of our esteemed alumni. These 40 talented individuals have made significant contributions in their fields at an early age. From saving endangered coral reefs in the Caribbean to building a space station near the Moon to paving the way for Black-owned businesses to thrive in Atlanta, these individuals are changing the world for the better.”
Nominees must have completed at least one semester at Georgia Tech, be under the age of 40 as of June 30, 2021, and have made an impact in their profession or community, spanning all industries and sectors. A committee of 21 faculty, staff, and volunteer leaders, who collectively represented all Georgia Tech colleges, scored each nominee using a 25-point rubric.
Profiles on each member of this year’s cohort will be printed in the fall issue of the Alumni magazine, set for mid-October mailing.
Until then, you can learn about the 2021 class on the Alumni Association’s website, and read on to meet the six inspiring College of Sciences alumni recognized in this year’s class:
Arindam Basu, MS Math 09, PhD ECE 10
Associate Professor | City U
Basu’s work in implantable machine learning for brain-machine interfaces (BMI) offers hope to the nearly 5.4 million persons living with paralysis. While the technology is still nascent, Basu’s research group at City University of Hong Kong and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore works on different aspects of neuromorphic circuits and systems that can be applied to brain-machine interfaces and Internet of Things (IoT). He helped pioneer the concept of integrating machine learning to BMI implants to reduce wireless data transmission rates, and thus, reduce the risk of infection that can be caused by needing to implant wires. Recently, his team has developed sensors that can mimic human pain receptors that can learn from harmful stimuli to trigger a pain withdrawal reflex even when the sensor is damaged.
Advice for new Yellow Jackets: “Do not be afraid to explore new grounds—Tech is a melting pot of talented faculty and students, so you should try to maximize your learning experience in all possible ways. Most importantly, do not stick to the boundaries of your discipline—the most amazing discoveries and inventions await you the moment you can make connections between concepts across disciplines.” – Basu
Fun fact: Basu—always the curious researcher—wanted to figure out how humans learn to smile when we are happy. He tried an experiment on his baby by correlating happy moments with a frown instead…but had to stop after his wife said she’d ban him from being with his daughter!
James Belanger, EAS 07, PhD EAS 12
Senior Meteorological Scientist | The Weather Company, IBM
When it comes to extreme weather events, having accurate forecasts is a matter of life or death. As an atmospheric scientist, Belanger’s work has influenced the type and quality of weather and climate forecast information consumed by millions of people around the world. After graduating in 2012, he joined a Tech VentureLab startup to implement his research on improving probabilistic tropical cyclone forecasts using numerical weather prediction models and machine learning. That research has been applied worldwide and continues to be used today to support more effective emergency management decisions. For the last five years, he’s served as senior scientist with The Weather Company, an IBM business and the largest provider of weather forecasts worldwide.
“My education experience was challenging and global in nature, taking me to study abroad programs in France and conferences across Europe and India, and opening my aperture to both the suffering and the opportunity that lies ahead,” Belanger says.
Fun fact: Belanger is married to Laura Belanger, also a Tech graduate, and she works at the U.S. National Weather Service in Atlanta. The couple has named their children after meteorological events that changed U.S. history. Their son, Andrew, can be traced to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and their daughter, Katherine, to Hurricane Katrina from 2005.
Kristen Marhaver, Bio 04
Associate Scientist | CARMABI Foundation
Marhaver is a scuba diver, underwater photographer, and a world-renowned expert in coral breeding. In her research lab in Curaçao, she invented new methods for coral breeding, baby coral propagation, and coral gene banking to help scientists and reef restoration teams around the world. Her TED talks sharing her methods and innovations have garnered over 2 million views. She worked as an undergraduate researcher in Georgia Tech’s School of Biology for several years, including multiple years studying corals, coral ecology, and coral reef fishes with Drs. Snell, Jones, and Hay. After graduating, she landed a competitive PhD position at Scripps. Since then, her work has been featured by the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, Scientific American, and TED. Marhaver was the first person in the world to raise baby pillar corals, a nearly extinct Caribbean coral species that is listed as endangered.
This required diving for hours in the dark over multiple years to decode the timing and carefully collect eggs and sperm to achieve fertilization using specialized methods. Three other teams have now successfully bred juvenile pillar corals with her methods. In addition, Marhaver, her father, Carl Marhaver, and her stepmother, Robin Ferst Marhaver, have sponsored a first-year biology researcher each year in the FastTrack Research Program.
“Georgia Tech gave me rocket boosters for my career. As a scientist, I lean on my GT training every single day,” Marhaver says.
Fun fact: Marhaver used to run the 100-meter hurdles.
Melissa Nord, EAS 13
Meteorologist | 11 Alive
In December 2020, Nord became 11 Alive’s weekend morning meteorologist in Atlanta. Previously, she was a meteorologist and co-anchor at WUSA 9 for several years. Nord’s ability to forecast and present the weather in a relatable yet stimulating way has earned her national recognition. She won the 2018 Associated Press and Emmy Award for Best Meteorologist/Weather Anchor in the Washington D.C. and Chesapeake Bay region, excelling above veterans in the field. Her mission is to change how people consume weather forecasts by bringing the science to life in a relatable format. Nord is also a passionate STEM advocate, volunteering with community organizations to bring STEM activities to children.
“Georgia Tech allowed me to ‘embrace the nerd’—and I follow this motto in my career, being nicknamed ‘Nord the Nerd’,” she says.
Fun fact: Nord has a German Shepherd-Lab mix named Buzz! On social media @MelissaNordWx, you can see photos of Buzz, her cat Emma, and “Weather Baby,” a future Yellow Jacket that she and her husband (also a Tech grad) welcomed into the world last fall.
Michole Washington, AM 16
Mathematics Education Doctoral Candidate | University of Michigan
Washington’s “abolitionist approach” to STEM education started the year she graduated from Georgia Tech. In 2016, she was the ninth Black woman in history to earn a bachelor’s in Applied Mathematics from the Institute. That fact signaled to her that there were deeply rooted, systemic issues in the education system, including racism, sexism, and imperialism; this makes it hard for Black and Brown students to feel seen, challenged, or excited about learning STEM concepts. She’s committed to shifting the narrative of what STEM education is and who can do it. As a doctoral candidate in mathematics education at the University of Michigan, she studies different aspects of informal STEM environments like extracurriculars designed for students who are underestimated because of their race or economic status. As a resident researcher intern at NASA, she conducts research and develops tools focused on evidence-based, effective practices aimed at sparking and sustaining underestimated K-12 girls’ interest in STEM. She is also CEO and founder of STEMulation, an educational games and media production company that promotes STEM learning through the lens of social justice theory and practice.
“Even though most of my current success is about critiquing mathematics education and the culture around it, my formal mathematics training at GT has set a sturdy foundation for my messaging,” Washington says. “By that, I mean my undergraduate experiences as a math major at GT gave me a first-hand perspective to understand when a student is not comfortable within a STEM space, and secondly, the motivation to want to do something about it.”
Fun fact: Washington has an Amtrak rewards card because she loves riding cross-country trains.
Thomas “Bo” Hatchett, Bio 13
Georgia State Senator – District 50 | Georgia State Senate
Hatchett was elected to the Georgia State Senate in 2020, becoming the youngest state senator in Georgia. He represents District 50, which includes eight counties in the northeastern corner of Georgia. Hatchett also serves as the governor’s floor leader. Since passing the bar in 2017, Hatchett, a civil trial attorney with Cathy & Strain, LLC, has worked on a number of catastrophic injury cases seeking justice for families. While at Georgia Tech, Hatchett served as captain of the school’s swim team during his last two years. As a litigator, representative, and real-estate business owner, Hatchett strives to always live by the Institute’s motto of “Progress and Service.”
“My education extended way beyond the classroom, and the professors, coaches, and staff members at Georgia Tech helped mold me into the person I am today,” Hatchett says.
Fun fact: Hatchett is a huge fan of the show Jeopardy. When he was younger, he would watch the show with his dad, and when he got to Tech, he and his roommates rarely missed an episode.
First photo: Left to right, top row then lower: Arindam Basu (MS Math 09, PhD ECE 10), James Belanger (EAS 07, PhD EAS 12), Kristen Marhaver (Bio 04), Melissa Nord (EAS 13), Michole Washington (AM 16), and Thomas “Bo” Hatchett (Bio 13).