Lab Members

Kirill Afonin

Principal Investigator

I was born in Leningrad, U.S.S.R. but grew up in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation. I graduated from Saint Petersburg State University with a M.S. in Chemistry, followed by a Ph.D. in Photochemistry earned from Bowling Green State University, Ohio. In addition to my doctoral degree, received in 2008, I also obtained a Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics, Proteomics/Genomics from a joint program between Bowling Green State University, Medical University of Ohio, and University of Toledo, Ohio. In the following three years, I completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Chemistry and Biochemistry in Luc Jaeger’s lab at the University of California Santa Barbara. In 2011, I was invited as a Research Fellow to join the group of Bruce Shapiro at the National Cancer Institute, NIH where I established and managed an experimental branch within the Computational RNA Structure Group. I started my tenure-track appointment as an Assistant Professor at UNC Charlotte in 2015 and was promoted to the Associate Professor in 2019.
Starting with my doctoral research, under supervision of Neocles Leontis, I focused my efforts on studying RNA biology and nanotechnology with potential diagnostic and therapeutic applications to biomedicine. My interdisciplinary research experience includes extensive use of both computational and experimental techniques for modeling, prediction, engineering, and characterization in vitro and in vivo of natural and artificial nucleic acid-based structures.

  • ResearchGate
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Melina Richardson

Undergraduate Biology Major

My name is Melina Richardson. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri and moved to Charlotte during the summer of in 2015. After graduating South Mecklenburg High School, I began pursuing a B.S. in Biology with minors in statistics and bioinformatics. After graduation, I hope to enter a PhD program in Microbiology and Virology.

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Doaha Awad

Undergraduate Biology Major

My name is Doaha Awad. I am a junior majoring in Biology (B.S.) and minoring in Chemistry and Psychology and I aspire to attend medical school in the future. I am originally from the Bronx, NY, but moved to Charlotte, NC, a couple of years ago. I joined Dr. Afonin’s lab because I was interested in research, specifically in the field of Biochemistry, but also because his work with RNA nanotechnology was very fascinating and I wanted to learn more. Through my experience in Dr. Afonin’s lab, I have developed more of an interest and appreciation in research and am excited to continue research in the lab.

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Leyla Danai-nolder

Undergraduate Biology Major

Hello! My name is Leyla and I am a senior pursuing a B.S. in Biology with a minor in political science. Originally from Germany, I have lived most of my life in Raleigh, NC. I began my undergraduate experience here at UNCC in 2017 and upon graduating, I plan to continue my research in nucleic acid nanotechnology as a PhD student in Dr. Afonin’s lab.

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Jonathan Black

Undergraduate Biology Major

My name is Jonathan Black. I’m a North Carolinian through and through. After recently returning to the Charlotte area, I am pursuing a major in Biology and a minor in Chemistry at UNCC. Upon completing my undergraduate degree, I plan to pursue an MD/PhD, where I can combine my passions of science and service to my community.

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Jay Shah

Undergraduate Health Systems Management Major

My name is Jay Shah. I am currently a senior at UNC Charlotte. Originally, I am from Fayetteville, NC. I am pursuing a major in health systems management, but my focus is pre-med. I joined Dr. Afonin’s lab in hopes of gaining more experience with scientific research. By working in this lab, I hope to gain more knowledge on nanotechnology. My goal is to one day do clinical research with the purpose of improving the quality of other’s lives.

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Dr. Martin Panigaj

Visiting Scientist from P. J. Safarik University Institute of Biology and Ecology

Postdoctoral ORISE Fellow | U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Ph.D., Molecular and Cellular Biology | Charles University (Prague, Czech Republic)
M.S., Molecular Biology and Genetics | P.J. Safarik University (Kosice, Slovak Republic)

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Dr. Caryn D. Striplin

Lecturer and Lab Coordinator

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Molecular Pharmacology | UNC Chapel Hill

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Dr. Brittany Johnson

Research Assistant Professor

My name is Brittany Johnson, and I am originally from Marion, Va. In 2008, I earned my B.S. in Biology with Honors from the College of William and Mary. I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2014 with a Ph.D. from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology. My dissertation work investigated mechanisms used by the bacterial pathogen, Neisseria gonorrhoeae to evade neutrophil clearance. I have continued my career as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina Charlotte working with Dr. Ian Marriott and Dr. Kirill Afonin. Currently, I am investigating glial cell immune receptors required for identification and stimulation of an immune response to bacterial pathogens and therapeutic nucleic acids.

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Damian Beasock

Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student

I’m Damian Beasock from Syracuse, New York. At Syracuse University I earned a BS in Bio-Med Physics. I was a part of the Forstner biophysics research group studying active matter. I’m currently working on my PhD in Nanoscale Science here at UNC Charlotte.

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Morgan Chandler

Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student

My name is Morgan Chandler and I'm a local product from Charlotte, NC. I earned my B.S. in Biology with Honors from UNC Charlotte in 2017.

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Yelixza I. Avila

Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student

Hello, my name is Yelixza. I am from the El Paso, TX area and graduated from Sul Ross State University with a B.S. in Biology and Chemistry. Currently, I am a Nanoscale Science Ph.D. student studying the delivery of therapeutic nucleic acids.

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Alex Lewis Rolband

Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student

I am Lewis Rolband, though I go by Alex in most company. I took the scenic route to my B.S. Chemistry with Biochemistry from UNC-Charlotte. While working towards my undergraduate degree, I served in the NC Army National Guard (NCARNG) as an artillery observer and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle commander. After eight years in the NCARNG, I decided to end my service and pursue a PhD at UNC-Charlotte in order to further my scientific career.

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Jessica McMillan

Biology Masters Student

​Hello! I am from Creedmoor, NC. In 2018, I graduated from UNC Charlotte with a B.S. in Psychology and minors in Biology and Chemistry. Before attending medical school, I'll be enhancing my knowledge on the inter-workings of human physiology and optimal drug delivery by studying RNA nanotechnology. My goal is to one day use nanodesign to diagnose patients experiencing chemical and psychological deviances and alleviate the symptoms with minimal drug side effects.

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Undergraduate Students

Graduate Students

Doctoral Researchers