Our Team

Zac Freedman (Principal Investigator)

Zac is interested in the ecology and environmental significance of microorganisms in a changing world. He completed his postdoctoral training at the University of Michigan with Dr. Don Zak and his PhD at Rutgers University with Dr. Tamar Barkay. Zac is a native of Evanston, Illinois and enjoys long bike rides, discovering new music, and all things hockey. Before embarking on a career in science, Zac was a camp counselor, a hot dog vendor at Wrigley Field in Chicago and a security guard at the Gorge Amphitheater in Washington State.


Grace Cagle (Postdoctoral Fellow)


Grace is interested in understanding what factors shape microbiomes to better predict how environmental changes will affect microbial functions. In the Freedman lab, she will be using pitcher plants as a model system to study microbial community assembly and biogeography. Before joining the lab, she earned her PhD at Louisiana State University and was an NSF EAPSI fellow at the Northeast Institute of Geography and Agroecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Grace’s interest in microbial ecology developed as an undergraduate while working on a wetland restoration project with poor soils. She enjoys tropical climates, music, good food, and spending time with her husband and two dogs.


Annalise Keaton (Research Specialist)


Annalise is a graduate from UW-Stevens Point where she focused her studies on Botany and Conservation Biology. Having lived in Wisconsin her whole life, she is passionate about conserving its beautiful ecosystems. She enjoys spending her time out in nature, in her garden or in local pottery studios.


Brooke Propson (PhD Student)


Brooke is a first year PhD student and National Science Foundation Fellow (NSF-GRF) in the Soil Science Department at UW-Madison. She earned a B.S. in Ecology, Evolution, & Biodiversity (EEB) and the undergraduate Program in the Environment (PitE) at the University of Michigan. Brooke is a biogeochemist and ecosystem ecologist interested in the impacts of altered anthropogenic activity on nutrient cycling and storage via changes in soil microbial community structure and function.

Brooke’s website
Twitter & Instagram: @bpropscience


Tanner Judd (PhD Student)

Tanner is a first year PhD student in the Freedman Lab. He earned his B.S. at West Virginia University in Agroecology in 2020 and MS in plant and soil sciences at Oklahoma State University in May 2022 before coming to UW-Madison. Tanner’s current work evaluates the role of microbes in reducing carbon loss from agricultural systems under differing management strategies


Gwen Pipes (PhD Student) 

Gwen is a first year PhD student in the Freedman Lab. She earned a B.S. in Environmental Science and an M.S. in Natural Resources from Cornell University. Gwen is interested in studying restoration in anthropogenically degraded landscapes and its impact on soil carbon storage. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her cat, Atlas, doing art, and running.


Salvador Grover (MS Student)

Salvador is a MS student at UW-Madison in the Agroecology program. He is interested in making agricultural production more sustainable by studying the interactions among plants, microbes, and soils. Before coming to Madison, he received his bachelor’s in environmental science and management at UC Davis, and later on worked in their small grains cropping systems lab. While there, he was able to help local growers make better management decisions to reduce their environmental impact while also improving yields. Outside of science, he is very passionate about music, exercising, and cooking.


Hannah Anderson (MS Student)

Hannah is a MS+PhD track student in the Soil Science program at UW-Madison. She earned a B.S. in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where she was immersed in an abundance of experiences in the soil sciences. Her previous research experience has focused on microbial ecology and evolutionary biology within disease suppressive soils. Primarily interested in understanding the biological processes fundamental to plant health and stability, her MS research is investigating the role of root exudates on the recruitment and functional potential of soil microbiomes under organic carrot.


Jenni Kane (PhD Candidate)

Jenni is a PhD candidate at West Virginia University and is co-advised with Dr. Ember Morrissey. Jenni is a graduate of Fairmont State University with a B.S. in Biology and from WVU with a M.S. in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. She is investigating how plant-soil-microbe interactions influence crop yield and quality in bioenergy agroecosystems. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her husband and playing with her dog, Wilbur as well as spending time outside hiking.


Elisabeth Six (MS Student)

Elisabeth is a MS student at West Virginia University and is co-advised with Dr. Charlene Kelly. Elisabeth is from Chester, WV and graduated from WVU in 2019 with a B.S. in Animal and Nutritional Sciences. She is determining the soil and microbial factors that underlie differential regeneration of economically valuable tree species in the Allegheny National Forest, PA.


Alessia Fucentese (Undergraduate Research Assistant)

Alessia is a sophomore at UW- Madison in the College of Letters and Science. She is majoring in Environmental studies and Botany.  She is also persuing the Biocore Curriculum Honors certificate. Fascinated with plants and how they affect society, she hopes to become a research scientist who specializes in important food crops. She is originally from Needham, Massachusetts and she enjoys exploring the beaches, mountains and forests of New England.  In her free time, she enjoys gardening, hiking, spending time with friends, and learning as much about plants and the natural world as possible.


Jeremy Fleck (Undergraduate Research Assistant)

Jeremy is an undergraduate approaching his senior year this fall (2022). He is majoring in microbiology and obviously loves anything involving microbes. Jeremy plans to apply to PhD programs this fall for next school year (2023) with hopes of conducting research on the many interactions between pathogens and the immune system. Outside of school, Jeremy enjoys skating around campus, crushing kids in spikeball, and talking it up with guests on his podcast called Flying Intuition.


Lab Alumni

Graduate Students

Greg Martin (PhD, 2022)

Thesis Title: Anthropogenic disturbance regimes impact the microbial and chemical composition of soils and sediments across ecosystems
Current Position:

Jenni Kane (MS, 2019)

Thesis Title: Soil microbial succession following surface mining is governed primarily by deterministic factors
Current Position: PhD candidate at West Virginia University.

Brianna Mayfield (MS, 2019)

Thesis Title: Mine reclamation using biofuel crops: Insights into the microbial ecology of the switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) microbiome.
Current Position: Senior Research Services Professional at University of Colorado Denver.

Jordan Koos (MS, 2018)

Thesis Title: Prescribed defoliation strategies influence soil carbon storage and nitrous oxide emission potential in West Virginia pastures
Current Position: Soil Conservationist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Undergraduate Students

Anella Cousin (Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2020-2022)
Annalisa Stevenson (Independant Study, 2020)
Amalia Petropoulos (Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2021-2022)