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OUR team

Our team members are working to win the competition because the solution we build will help further our long terms goals of rainforest monitoring and the support of indigenous peoples. The majority of our prize winnings will be directed to rainforest research in Ecuador.


Each member of our team brings a unique set of skills and experiences that will help develop a solution. We are actively recruiting additional team members from existing collaborations as well as forming new networks. If you are excited by applying your skills in machine learning, drone exploration, taxonomy, genetics or technical communications to improve conservation technology, please contact us, we'd love to hear from you.

project management, Drone delivery & robotics

These team members are using cutting-edge technology to design and refine our Limelight platform, and to deliver and retrieve it from the rainforest canopy

Meet The Team



Professor of Biology, Colorado Mesa University
Role(s): Team leader, vision integration, project timeline management
Language(s): English, Spanish

Dr. Walla is a tropical ecologist whose research and teaching has been focused on sampling and quantifying biodiversity in the upper Amazon for more than 25 years. He has used baited traps, malaise traps, hand nets, exhaustive searching, and a diversity of other approaches to sample birds, herpetofauna, plants, and insects in lowland tropical rainforest. His expertise is in Lepidoptera and the measurement of species interactions involving insects and plants. He is fluent in Spanish and collectively has spent more than 4 years living and working in the Ecuadorian rainforest and interacting with Quichua and Waorani people. He also led more than 10 field courses and set up multiple biodiversity monitoring programs in the rainforests of Ecuador.


Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Oregon, 2000

B.A., Economics, University of California, San Diego, 1991


outreach robotics

Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada
Team Members: Guillaume Charon, Julien Rachielle-Tremblay, Hughes La Vigne

Role(s): Drone pilot, drone delivery, design of Limelight housing

OutReach develops state-of-the-art robotic solutions to operate in harsh, remote, and GPS denied environments. Their products and custom solutions are versatile and easy to use, enabling partners to explore previously unreachable locations.

Their unique aerial robotics solutions are designed for multiple applications, ranging from environmental sciences and forestry to infrastructure inspection. These tools can be suspended under a drone, under a crane, or even on a fixed anchor providing different ways of using the technology.

Learn more at their website:


Eric Fortune, PhD

Associate Professor, Federated Department of Biological Sciences, New Jersey Institute of Technology; Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
Role(s): Imaging, block chain technology

Dr. Fortune has a great diversity of skill sets that will help develop our Xprize Rainforest solution. As a neuroscientist working to understand how organisms perceive their environment, his lab members build recording and sensing devices on a regular basis. A recent area of work has shown that fish can be engaged with a kind of virtual reality system that informs their sensory system about objects close to them that are virtually produced by investigators. For our project, Dr. Fortune has developed a conveyor belt system that will photograph insects attracted to LED lights while continuously moving them through the photographic studio.

natural history, insect sampling, and data analysis

These team members are developing custom sampling tools for collecting insects and analyzing natural history & diversity data generated by all of Limelight's sensors

Meet The Team


Lee Dyer, PHD

Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Biology, University of Nevada Reno
Role(s): Model building, data analysis, entomologist, network analyst, community science
Language(s): English, Spanish, Portugese

Dr. Dyer’s work in chemical ecology and tropical diversity focuses on direct and indirect trophic interactions in complex biotic communities with emphases on global change, documenting the diversity of multi-trophic interactions, and examining the effects of plant secondary compounds on insect herbivores and their natural enemies. Funding for this research comes from the National Science Foundation, Earthwatch Institute, the Department of Defense, and private funding sources. The major continuing research topics of his laboratory and collaborators include: 1) Chemical ecology; 2) Diversity of interactions in tropical and temperate forests; 3) Variation in tritrophic interactions due to climate change; 4) Conservation and applied ecology; 5) Quantitative ecology; 6) Coevolution across multiple trophic levels



Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of California Santa Cruz, 1994/1995

Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder, 1994

Bachelor of Arts Biochemistry, University of California Santa Barbara, 1987

Bachelor of Arts English, University of California Santa Barbara, 1987


Harold Greeney, PHD

Director of Research, Yanayacu Biological Station 
Role(s): Innovation, insect inventory, bird inventory
Language(s): English, Spanish, Portugese (reading)

Dr. Greeney is a broadly trained organismal biologist with almost 30 years of experience studying biotic communities across the Neotropics, particularly in the Andes and upper Amazon. He has lived in several remote field stations in Ecuador, including the Yanayacu Research Station, which he founded and operated for almost 20 years, disseminating his research through more than 340 publications. He is proficient in a wide range of biological field techniques and sampling protocols, including rapid biotic inventories, and he has been an invited speaker and lecturer in Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. In 2015, his contributions to tropical ecology were recognized through the award of a Guggenheim Fellowship. 



Ph.D., Vertebrate Zoology, University Wroclaw, 2008

M.S., Entomology, University of Arizona, 1999

B.S., Biology, Wake Forest University, 1993


wilmer sambana

Para-taxonomist, Yanayacu Biological Station, Ecuador 
Role(s):  AI database training acquisitions, ground truthing species identification, on-the-ground solution tester
Language(s): Spanish

Wilmer is an Ecuadorian from Baeza, Ecuador and he has been working as a field para-taxonomist for a variety of biological projects for the past 15 years at Yanayacu Biological Station.  He has an exceptional ability to find and identify thousands of species of lepidopteran caterpillars in the rainforest. He is highly skilled at database management, macro photography of insects, rainforest navigation, and the organization and identification of insects from photographs. Wilmer also has decades of experience identifying plants in the field and recognizing important herbivore and plant patterns in rainforest communities. 


Jarol Fernando Vaca

Owner and Operator, Shiripuno Research Center, Ecuador. 
Role(s): Bioacoustic testing and AI training, bird and frog identification, solution testing
Language(s): English, Spanish

Jarol is an Ecuadorian who has dedicated his life to the study and promotion of tropical diversity from the site of two unique and extraordinary rainforest experience lodges that he founded and operates. He founded the Shiripuno Research Center, which is one of the most remote and rustic lodges in Ecuador, surrounded by hundreds of miles of pristine rainforest deep in Waorani territory on the border of Yasuni National Park. He also founded a cloud forest reclamation project near Sumaco peak in the Napo province of Ecuador. Jarol is an expert in bird and frog identification from sound and has extensive experience using camera traps, bioacoustics software, and a broad diversity of identification approaches for tropical organisms. 


Lora Richards, PhD

Assistant Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, University of Nevada Reno
Analytical approaches to ecological data

The Richards Lab focuses on a wide range of chemically mediated ecological interactions. They are particularly interested in the role of plant chemistry in structuring diverse ecological communities. They utilize a multidisciplinary approach that combines field and laboratory approaches with the latest spectroscopic tools in organic chemistry to address basic ecological questions.

bioacoustics & machine learning

These team members are developing AI / Machine Learning algorithms to rapidly and accurately identify species from sound and images collected by Limelight

Meet The Team


Garth Paine, PHD

Professor, Digital Sound and Interactive Media, AME, Arizona State University; Senior Sustainability Scientist – ASU Global Institute of Sustainability 
Role(s): Innovation, acoustic technology design

Dr. Paine has extensive experience working in the field of acoustic ecology where has applied his technical skills to record and refine reproduce ecological acoustic signals to measure and monitor natural habitats. He has also applied machine learning approaches to study sound diversity in natural soundscapes. Of special interest to our team, Dr. Paine has produced small microphones that record sound in programmable clips onto miniSD chips. These devices will be deployed in the Limelights.


ari griele

Ph.D student, University of Nevada, Reno (Dr. Lora Richards)
Role(s): AI and imaging development

Ari is working on his dissertation research investigating the role of toxic nectar metabolites in affecting pollinator behavior, milkweed chemical assays, drivers of herbivory and insect diversity. He has developed a camera system that uses machine learning algorithms to identify insects in the field and relays the data back to a centralized data analysis point using pymesh. His skills include Fluency in R, Python; mild proficiency in Javascript, OpenGL Machine learning algorithms using Pytorch Behavior analysis using B.O.R.I.S. software, Image analysis using M.I.P.A.R. & ImageJ software. Ari’s skill set is critical for development of our insect identification system.


Karl Castleton, MS

Associate Professor of Computer Science, Colorado Mesa University
Design and construction of the understory exploratory vessel


Karl Castleton is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Colorado Mesa University (CMU). He teaches courses in networking, systems and architecture, operating systems, and advanced programming. Castleton has his Masters in Computer Science from the University of Washington and has 20+ years of system design and integration experience during his tenure at Pacific Northwest National Lab. Castleton uses his real-world knowledge and experience in cybersecurity to teach most of his courses. Castleton is also involved in training and promoting computer science and cybersecurity to local school districts.


Sherine Antoun Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Computer Science, Colorado Mesa University
Role: Design and construction of the understory exploratory vessel

Sherine Antoun has extensive experience working in robotic navigation and ultrasonic robotic navigation.


  • PhD, Robotics and Applied Computer Science: University of Wollongong, Australia

  • Research Masters/MPhill, Computer Science: University of Wollongong, Australia


Pavan Turaga, PhD

Director & Professor, School of Arts Media and Engineering
Computer vision and data analysis.

Pavan Turaga is a Professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering at Arizona State University. His research spans representational foundations for structured and unstructured data, including time-series, image, video, 3D point clouds and more, and their applications in areas such as interactive systems, machine learning, computer vision, and mobile-health. 


Ankita Shukla, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Scholar, School of Arts Media & Engineering
Machine Learning Architecture, acoustic data analysis.

Dr. Shukla has substantial experience designing machine learning platforms for use in wildlife identification.


Matthias Hoffmann-Kuhnt, PhD

Research Fellow Acoustic Research Laboratory, National University of Singapore
Acoustic data analysis and innovation

Matthias earned a masters degree in Zoology (on mental rotation in bottlenose dolphins) from the University of Regensburg, Germany and got his PhD from the University of Berlin, Germany (visual and acoustic vigilance in bottlenose dolphins). Before coming to ARL, he worked at KBMML in Hawaii for 10 years (a decade with Dolphins!) where he was involved in cognitive and sensory research on bottlenosed dolphins and behavioural fieldwork with Humpback whales.

DNA & Bioinformatics

These team members are using cutting-edge DNA sequencing technology to identify species by eDNA and from tissue samples collected by robotics devices

Meet The Team

Meet The Team


Julie Allen, PHD

Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Nevada Reno
Role(s): Advisor, genetics & bioinformatics

Dr. Allen’s research is focused on three areas 1) genomics and evolutionary biology 2) bioinformatics and tool development and 3) public engagement. Her lab members build tools to engage both researchers and the public to work with biological data and use those data to answer questions about the ecology and evolution of coevolving taxa. Her role on our team is currently advisory and involves exploring the potential for data collection in the fields of genomics and bioinformatics.


Ph.D., University of Florida, 2010

B.S.,University of Utah, 2004

anthropology & indigenous knowledge

These team members are integrating biodiversity data with a deep knowledge of the indigenous cultures of the rainforest to generate insights into the actual and potential value of intact forest

Meet The Team

Tod Swanson_pic.JPG_itok=1hck9Re2.jpg

tod swanson, PHD

Senior Sustainability Scientist, Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, Arizona State University; Associate Professor of Religious Studies; Affiliated Faculty, Center for Biodiversity Outcomes
Role(s): Integration of insights and species inventory with the value systems of indigenous cultures
Language(s): English, Spanish

Dr. Swanson directed ASU's Center for Latin American Studies as a Title VI National Resource Center, 1997-2007. In 1999, he founded the Andes and Amazon Field School at Santu Urku (an Amazonian Kichwa community in Napo Province, Ecuador). During the summer months, he resides at this site with his wife and four children, where he manages an Amazonian forest preserve. Dr. Swanson serves the Santu Urku community in an elected capacity as councilman for environmental affairs. His work stems from a lifelong interest in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where he grew up as the son of evangelical missionaries. His studies of Amazonian Kichwa and Shuar religion seek to understand how heightened empathy with plant and animals species mediates emotional relations to family and community. His approach uses linguistic analysis of native discourse to uncover implicit assumptions underlying Amazonian thinking. Swanson is currently working on two articles: "I am the Mountain Toucan's Wife: How birds mediate social relations in the Ecuadorian Amazon,” and "Earth as Memory: Andean Kichwa thinking on the accumulation of history in the soil."



PhD, University of Chicago

BA, University of Minnesota


Diana Chavez Vargas, MCP

Role(s): Indigenous planning, insight development
Language(s): English, Spanish

Diana is from the Amazon Region and is interested in education, community development, and placemaking. She is passionate about the access to education and student development and has considerable experience working with college students. She is also knowledgeable about Ecuadorian and U.S educational systems. Diana brings the strength of her experience working with indigenous groups to plan sustainable development projects.



Master of Community and Regional Planning, with an emphasis in Indigenous Planning, University of New Mexico, 2018

Bachelor in Business Administration, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, 2011


DAvid Navarette, Phd

Associate Professor, School of Sustainability, College of Global Futures
Role(s): Cultural and sustainability insights

David Manuel-Navarrete applies an existential perspective to study deliberate transformations in social-ecological and technological systems, such as cities or coastal communities, including the subjective dimension of such transformations. His research aims at enhancing societies’ capacity to purposely deliver structural changes that simultaneously reduce inequality and sustain the planet's web of life. As a sustainability scholar, he focuses on promoting climate change adaptation, and tourism sustainability. His most recent research explores adaptation, resilience and transformation of water infrastructures in Mexico City, and the promotion of indigenous languages to advance sustainability in the Amazon.

Professor Manuel-Navarrete worked as a consultant for the United Nations, and as a researcher at King’s College London and the Free University of Berlin. He has conducted sustainability research and assessments in Argentina, Brazil, Central America, and Mexico. He teaches international development and sustainability and sustainability science.


  • PhD, Geography, University of Waterloo, 2004

  • MS, Ecological Economics, Autonomous University of Barcelona, 2000

  • BA, Environnmental Sciences, Autonomous University of Barcelona, 1998


These team members are developing tools to measure the hidden component of rainforest biodiversity that is chemical diversity

Meet The Team


Christopher Jeffrey, PHD

Professor of Organic Chemistry, University of Nevada Reno
Role(s): Measurement of plant chemical diversity and volatile characterization of the herbivore community

Dr. Jeffrey’s research laboratory is focused on addressing important, unmet challenges in target directed synthesis. Areas of research are identified using a synergistic approach where (1) inspiration from structurally and biologically interesting molecular targets drives reaction discovery, and (2) innovation in methodology enables new strategies for target-directed synthesis. Goals of this recent work that are directly relevant to this project are (1) map the diversity of secondary metabolism to the diversity of tropical rainforest caterpillars, (2) explore the link between phytochemical variation and the speciation of the caterpillar, and (3) understand the role of mixtures of natural products in the overall biologically activity of defensive compounds. These studies have stimulated the development of new approaches to metabolic characterization of phytochemically diverse species, led to the discovery of new natural products, and to the development of syntheses of some of these natural products.



Council on Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellow, Princeton University, 2007-2010

Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 2007

B.S.,, Carroll College, 2002


Casey Philbin, PhD

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, University of Nevada Reno
Chemical data acquisition and analysis

Dr. Philbin explores phytochemical ecometabolomics using a state-of-the-art Agilent 6560 IM-QTOF mass spectrometer. His research ranges from phytochemically mediated plant-insect interactions to the metabolic fate of phytochemicals in the gut and biofluids of herbivores. Working with Dr. Richards he investigates the influence of phytochemical diversity on plant-herbivore interactions across different ecological gradients and at various scales. Most recently, he has begun to develop techniques for integrating community and traditional ecological knowledge with metabolomic data to develop a deeper understanding of how chemistry can inform how humans have and continue to interact with ecological communities.

logistics & media

These team members help the whole team to communicate and help manage the logistical issues that arise during the competition

Meet The Team


johanna varner, Phd

Associate Professor, Biological Sciences, Colorado Mesa University
Role(s): Digital media director

Dr. Johanna Varner is a small mammal biologists, with diverse skills in science communication and media. Shortly after completing her PhD, she spent 10 weeks as a AAAS Mass Media Fellow at KQED Science, where she learned basics of professional social media, film editing and production, and news production for web, print, and radio. Her efforts to involve the public in pika monitoring resulted in her winning the 2018 AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement in Science, one of the highest honors celebrating outreach and participatory science. On Team Waponi, she is managing digital media interns, producing films for XPRIZE Waypoints, and advising the team on promotion.

  • PhD, Biology, University of Utah, 2015

  • M. Eng., Biomedical Engineering, MIT, 2007

  • B.S., Biology, MIT, 2006

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