Meet the Team


Dr. Elizabeth “Birdie” Shirtcliff

The early environment shapes children’s well-being and health; early adversity is well-known as a risk factor for wide-ranging problematic outcomes. Yet, the human sciences still do not understand how early adversity “gets under the skin.” Dr. Shirtcliff’s work focuses on biobehavioral mechanisms that illustrate the profound impact that a child’s early environment exerts on their physiology. Researchers in her SPIT Laboratory collect biomarkers noninvasively in humans. SPIT lab examine stress-biomarkers like cortisol, bonding-biomarkers like oxytocin, development-biomarkers like testosterone, or immune-biomarkers like herpes simplex virus. Ultimately, the goal is to use biomarkers to point to what really matters: the child’s family and social environment. Check out Dr. Shirtcliff’s video biography here.



Affiliate Assistant Professor of Research

Dr. Paula Ruttle

Paula is interested in how early life stress exposure influences the neurophysiology to increase susceptibility to mental and physical illness in adolescence. After completing her post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she took some time off to tend to family obligations, but her passion for research brought her back to academia as an affiliate assistant professor at ISU. She enjoys running, live music, and spending time with her husband and two children, Anderson and Noelle.


Postdoctoral Researchers

Dr. Lotte van Dammen

Lotte studies the link between stress, biomarkers, and health outcomes. She received her PhD in Medical Sciences in 2018 from the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. Lotte is interested in the effect of stress on health outcomes and in particular how virtual environments and novel stress tests can help us study the stress response. Lotte is from The Netherlands and enjoys Yoga, swimming, music, and movies.



Dr. Wen Wang

Wen is interested in adolescent development, especially internalizing problems (i.e., depression, lack of empathy) linked with pubertal maturation and adolescent emotion regulation. Wen is experienced in hair assays and hair hormone studies, which is a novel methodology in psychoneuroendocrinology that works as a long-term indicator of hormone concentration. Her work includes validating EIA-based hair protocols for multiple hormones (cortisol, dihydroepiandrosterone, estradiol, testosterone and progesterone), cross-validating hair assays by comparing hormone concentrations in different bio-specimens, standardizing hair sample collection methodology and applying hair hormone levels. Wen is from China and likes Chinese-style cooking, swimming, and piano.


Dr. Iram Shabir

Iram is interested in the role of sex and stress hormones in typical human physiology and in pathological conditions. She studies Reproductive Endocrinology in pediatrics and in adults. Iram finds the interplay of gonadal and adrenal hormones has a fascinating role in human physiology Iram’s educational background is from Clinical Biochemistry and Reproductive Endocrinology. She carried out her doctoral work from All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, where she studied a large cohort of patients affected with disorders of sex development and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome at clinical and molecular level. Her research goals are to study mechanism and role of sex and stress hormones. Iram likes traveling, discovering new cultures, reading history and watching movies.


Graduate Students

Olga Miocevic

Olga’s research interests include adolescent sexual behavior, sexuality education, healthy family relationships, and pubertal development. Her Master’s thesis focused on the impact of childhood sexual abuse on diurnal cortisol and testosterone in incarcerated adolescents. Olga has worked on several SPIT lab projects, including the VerOFy Spit Study. VerOFy and LIAM comprise a near-real time salivary cortisol assessment technology. Olga coordinated beta-testing for this technology, and published on the topic of lateral flow assays. Olga is currently strategizing for her dissertation research, which will focus on training programs for educators and caregivers on how to provide comprehensive, developmentally-appropriate sexuality education to children and adolescents. Olga comes from Belgrade, Serbia. She enjoys snuggles with her cats Whiskey and Gnocchi, as well as cooking and the outdoors with her partner.


Shannin N. Moody

Shannin is a Presidential Fellow at Iowa State. Shannin is interested in neuroendocrine markers and their associations with pain. This includes physical pain (i.e., the cold pressor task, tolerance of extremely spicy foods), emotional pain (e.g. domestic violence, discrimination), and the combination of both through sexual masochism. Her research goal is to find an “objective” measurement of painful experiences. Shannin has led enzyme immunoassays (EIAs) of both small projects and multi-site studies. Shannin continues working on the lab bench as an assay technician and even learned how to conduct solid-phase extractions for urinary oxytocin and vasopressin. She is also versed in the extraction of steroidal hormones from hair. As a hobby, Shannin enjoys playing with fire(poi), biking, and paying homage to her past career as a bartender (cocktail concoctions).


Neil Barnett

Neil’s research interest is in studying human stress physiology, with a particular emphasis on the autonomic nervous system (known colloquially as the ‘fight or flight response’). From this lens, this emphasis affords him the opportunity to study a wide variety of subjects, such as virtual reality immersion, financial, and social stress. His main focus is on the way our physiology interfaces with our use of technology. Neil is a New Orleans native fond of reading and live music.


Bethany McCurdy

Bethany’s research interest is in the psychophysiology of anxiety. She received her Bachelor’s of Science from the University of New Orleans, where she studied behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to jealousy and anxiety. Bethany is a team leader in ViRAL, SPIT Lab’s “Virtual Reality Autonomic Laboratory.” In her free time, she loves to paint and illustrate.


Tor Finseth

Tor Finseth is a doctoral student at Iowa State University in Aerospace Engineering and Human-Computer Interaction. He has been collaborating with the SPIT lab since 2015. He has strong expertise in the study of the human stress response in the context of occupational training and advanced technologies such as virtual reality, machine learning, stress detection, adaptive systems. His main contributions to the lab include developing virtual environments, conducting human research on stress tasks, interpretation of psycho-physiological biomarker analysis, and theories on environmental stressor constructs. He received his masters in Aerospace Engineering in 2016. Previously in 2014-2015, he worked for the Mission Management division of SpaceX. Before that in 2013, he worked for the Office of Presidential Personnel in the White House.


Scott Le

Scott joined SPIT Lab in 2019. He has a B.S. in Biology from the University of North Florida and a M.S. in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies from Iowa State University, where he studied neuroscience and statistics. He works as a lab technician in the wet lab. Scott has been watching Bones with his friend online and wondering when he can travel again.


    Undergraduate Students

Samuel Messbarger

Sam joined the SPIT lab in 2018. He studies Kinesiology at Iowa State. He was born and raised in Omaha, NE. He has been with the lab for 2 years and works as an assistant in the Wet lab and with other biological factors of projects. Sam is an avid sports fan who also enjoys cooking and hammocking.


Allisa Van Steenis

Allissa joined SPIT lab in 2019. She studies Biochemistry at Iowa State University. She primarily works as a lab technician in the wet lab. Allissa enjoys playing the tuba in band and watching movies with friends.


Jacob Peake

Jacob joined the SPIT Lab in 2019 and studies Political Science. He is hoping to attend medical school in the future and is interested in studying the relationship between different biomarkers in the stress response. He will be working in the wet lab as a lab assistant and likes to bike around Ames or play tennis in his free time. 


Andrew Deick

Andrew joined SPIT lab in 2020. He studies Software Engineering at Iowa State University. He builds environments in Virtual Reality. He is a huge fan of anything Star Wars or Marvel. 


Morgan Klein

Morgan joined SPIT lab in 2020. She studies Psychology at Iowa State.  She has an interest in human sexuality and will be assisting Olga in her research beginning this semester.  Morgan enjoys martial arts and watching movies.


Reece Gardner

Reece joined SPIT lab in 2020. He studies biochemistry. Being originally from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Reece enjoys spending time with friends and family watching football on the weekends.


Alexis Steinhoff

Alexis joined SPIT lab in 2020. She studies Biology and Mathematics at Iowa State University. She is interested in quantitative data extracted from the study of stress biomarkers and will be working in the wet lab as an assistant. She enjoys playing tennis and hiking.


Maddie McArthur-Stroman

Maddie joined the lab in 2020. She studies Kinesiology. Maddie plays cymbals in the ISUCFVMB drumline. She also likes to spend her time with friends and traveling.


Brandon Smith

Brandon has been part of the SPIT lab since 2020. His research areas of interest are the psychosomatic effects of positive stress, the neuroscience behind flow states, and the effects of subliminal priming on everyday life. Brandon enjoys reading fantasy novels and drinking caffeine products.


Mawra Fazal

Mawra joined the SPIT lab in the summer of 2020. Her major is Biology (pre-med). She is originally from Pakistan and moved to the U.S. in 2015. Mawra loves to spend time with her family. 


REU Students


SPIT lab guests for the Summer of 2019 include Bradon Thymes, Lucas Wright and Roselynn Conrady, who are challenged to get stress biomarkers to show reactivity to their virtual reality task.  They are part of the Summer Program for Interdisciplinary Research and Education – Emerging Interface Technologies program at ISU.

SPIT Alumni

Evalina Grimaldi

Evalina joined SPIT lab in 2019. She studies Chemical Engineering at Iowa State University. The investigation of stress biomarkers through the use of assays and the connection between the concentrations of different biomarkers are Evalina’s strongest interests with the SPIT Lab. Evalina’s role with the team is as an assistant in the wet lab. Evalina enjoys reading and fencing.

Luo Jin

Luo joined the SPIT lab in 2019. He studies Agricultural and Mechanical Engineering. He likes to play basketball in his free time and attend SPIT lab meetings.


Dr. Jenny Mai Phan

Jenny was a Predoctoral Fellow with the National Institute of Mental Health and now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Waisman Center. Jenny studies puberty and its association with internalizing behaviors in adolescent boys, including autistic boys, with the aim to better understand buffering mechanisms attenuating biopsychosocial stress within parent-adolescent relationships. Jenny has studied a range of biobehavioral topics, particularly dyadic behaviors in mother-infant primates, adrenocortical and autonomic attunement in emerging adult couples, parent-adolescent agencies as predictors of rule compliance, HPA-HPG coupling during acute stress, and cortisol functioning across contexts. Jenny has conducted salivary and urinary enzyme immunoassays analyzing gonadal and adrenal neuroendocrine markers as well as immune markers and pituitary neuropeptides. Jenny is an active advocate for her sons who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.

Dr. Yoojin Lee

Yoojin has been studying biomarkers and their associations with reward-seeking behaviors and behaviors in challenging situations. To assess those associations, Yoojin has been trained to assay neuroendocrine and immune biomarkers. Yoojin minors in Statistics and has been trained to conduct data analyses using Mplus, SPSS, HLM, MS Excel, and R. Yoojin is also interested in acute regulation in bioavailability of endocrine markers and its relation with hemodynamic responses of the brain in youth and young adults. In addition, Yoojin studies how genomic propensity of pubertal timing is associated with the neural integrity and morphology of the brain. Yoojin loves to learn and seeks new knowledge as a hobby.


Dr. Andrew Dismukes

Andrew Dismukes is a postdoctoral scholar in the gene environment interplay lab. He has a B.S. in Biochemistry from Auburn University, a M.S. in Biological Psychology from the University of New Orleans, and a Ph.D. in Human Development from Iowa State University. Andrew is most interested in genetic and environmental influences that shape the stress response system, with a particular focus on neuroendocrine functioning, and how this influences health and behavior across the lifespan. Andrew enjoys reading and outdoor activities.

Logan Stiens

Logan completed his Bachelor’s of Science in Biology in May of 2018 and has been a part of the lab since Spring 2015. He continued his studies at ISU in the Master’s program of Biomedical Science. He is now a medical student at University of Iowa. As an undergraduate member of the lab, he worked under different senior members of the lab on projects such as the VerOfy and the TSST. Logan completed his Honor’s Capstone Project by studying Virtual Reality and its utility for future stress research. Logan is interested in mental illness, its biological mechanisms, and treatment. Logan enjoys scuba diving and BBQ’s with his fraternity brothers.


Olivia Robertson

Olivia received her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and was a SPIT lab member since Spring 2017. Olivia contributed to the lab by co-managing the Teaching as Research study, assaying biomarkers for both hair and saliva, collecting hair samples at remote sites and assisting in running female participants through the lab’s virtual reality studies. She will be using her skills in Human Development at Purdue University in their PhD program. Olivia enjoys riding her bike, eating Mexican food, reading about visionary feminism and paying as far under retail price as she can manage.

Francisco Bermudez

Francisco received his Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology in 2017. Francisco is currently a medical student at the University of Medicine and Health Sciences at St. Kitts. Participating in the SPIT Lab sparked his interest in how hormone levels fluctuate with the current mental/physical/emotional state of an individual. Francisco is from Puerto Rico and enjoys reading.


Alex Restemayer

Alex completed his Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology in May of 2017 and was a part of the SPIT lab since Spring 2016. He was accepted into an osteopathic medical school. As an undergraduate member of the lab, he worked under different senior members of the lab on projects such as the VerOfy and the TSST. Alex participated in projects that were presented at the undergraduate research symposium. Alex enjoys camping, sports, and traveling.


Summer Castillo

Summer recently graduated with her Bachelor’s in Animal Science. She is interested in research that involves animal nutrition and animal behavior. Summer currently works as a research associate at a primate lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She enjoys swimming and spending time painting.

Ala Sobi

Ala Sobi is from Sudan. She moved to the United States in 2015. She is a pre-med student, getting a B.S. in Kinesiology and Health. Her dream is to go to medical school for internal medicine. Her research interest is in stress and stress biomarkers in developmental research. In her free time, she likes to watch movies and read books.

Jacob Liebman

Jake Liebman studies Software Engineering at Iowa State. He was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. He joined the lab in 2018.