Meet the Members of the White Lab


Heather White, Ph. D.

Heather White did her undergraduate degree at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana.  She then earned her Masters in (under the joint mentorship of Shawn Donkin and Mickey Latour) and her Ph.D. (under the mentorship of Shawn Donkin) in Nutritional Physiology at Purdue University.  SMC


After an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Heather joined the faculty in the Department of Animal Science at University of Connecticut.  She joined the Department of Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in April, 2013 and since then has taught a variety of classes including the graduate level Ruminant Nutritional Physiology I and II, as well as undergraduate level Comparative Animal Nutrition.

Heather enjoys gardening, knitting, and spending time with her family!

Sandy Bertics

Nutrition Group Lab Manager

Sandy is the lab manager for the Nutrition Research Group in the Department of Dairy Science.  Sandy oversees all lab activities, animal trials, grants, and trains graduate and undergraduate students.

White Lab Current Members: 

Sophia Erb

Associate Research Specialist


The focus of my research is on understanding the regulation of lipolysis during periods of adipose tissue mobilization, specifically the transition to lactation period. Much of my work is laboratory based, where Western Blotting and RT-qPCR are utilized to elucidate what is actually happening in dairy cows at the molecular level. I also participate in ongoing whole-animal and cell culture studies, as well as training or assisting new and current students with lab procedures.

Ryan Pralle

Ph.D. Candidate

The objective of my research is to evaluate the expression of the gene patatin-like phospholipase domain-containing protein 3 (PNPLA3) in transition cattle. PNPLA3 expression, in preliminary data, has been found to be closely associated with the regulation of hepatic lipid infiltration. Better understanding of this genes role will further current knowledge of the etiology of fatty liver syndrome in dairy cattle and the prevention of secondary metabolic disorders, such as ketosis.

Outside of the classroom I have always been an active individual on campus, especially with the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, Dairy Challenge, and Badger Dairy Club. Off campus, I am quite active with the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association and was recently honored by the National Holstein Association USA by becoming a National Distinguished Junior Member Finalist.

Rafael Oliveira, MS

Ph.D. Candidate


Rafael Oliveira did his undergraduate and Masters at Federal University of Lavras, Brazil. His thesis entitled “Supplementation of late gestation dairy cows with beta-carotene”, under the mentorship of Marcos N. Pereira, was concluded in August 2014. From August 2014 to February 2015 he interned at Heather’s lab where he had the opportunity of participate in the research projects entitled “The Role Of Hepatic Adiponutrin In Regulating Lipid Accumulation In Dairy Cows” and “Improving detection and treatment of sub-clinical ketosis in dairy cows”. Since September 2015 he is working as a Graduate Research Assistant to White Research Group.
Outside of the lab he’s just a normal guy that enjoys having fun with his friends.


Henry Holdorf

Ph.D. Student

My research aims to improve the health and functionality of the liver in dairy cows subjected to metabolic challenges. The two types of challenges I am focusing on are the transition period and heat stress. The objective of my research is to understand the potential interactions of inflammation and nutrient metabolism during these stresses, which can result in dysregulation of metabolism. The projects that I am involved with range from determining the abundance of different proteins involved in fatty acid metabolism using cell culture, to testing the effect of different nutritional strategies on performance of dairy cows during heat stress using an electric heated blanket model.

When I’m not in the lab/on the farm researching I enjoy working out, spending time with friends and whatever else I can find to make me laugh or put a smile on my face.


Malia Martin

Master’s Student co-advised by Dr. Heather White and Dr. Kent Weigel

My research is focused on residual feed intake and predicting feed intake. The first objective of my research is to identify physiological sources of variation of feed efficiency. By analyzing arterial-venous differences of circulating energy metabolites, we aim to identify differences in post absorptive metabolism and efficiency of use by the mammary gland. My second objective is to predict feed intake using feeding behavior data using an ear tag sensor in addition to milk spectra data. I received my Bachelor’s at the University of Minnesota Crookston in 2018.


Faith Baier

Ph.D. student co-advised by Dr. Jennifer Van Os, Dr. Heather White, and Dr. Kent Weigel

My research is focused on social competition and feeding behavior in lactating dairy cows. The main objective of my research is to determine a novel, robust method of evaluating social dynamics in dairy cows. Ultimately, we aim to understand the relationship between social dynamics and feed efficiency to improve genomic selection and optimize dairy management practices.

I received my B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and my M.S. from Colorado State University under Dr. Temple Grandin. Aside from graduate school, I enjoy spending time outdoors with my dog as well as with my family and friends.




White Lab Alumni

Claira Seely, M.S.The objective of Claira’s research was to identify the relationship between liver triglyceride accumulation and circulating biomarkers related to energy balance, liver health, and inflammation during the transition to lactation period. An additional aim of her Master’s research was to create models that will allow for the prediction of liver triglyceride content at various points during the transition period from analyzed blood metabolites and milk production data.

Outside of research, Claira enjoys horseback riding, running, and hiking with her dog. She will be continuing her studies at Cornell University with Dr. Jessica McArt.

Dr. Kristina Weld

11392866_10206389865888534_8695155580884325406_nThe goal of Kristina’s research was to determine how different fatty acids may affect liver metabolism in transition cows. Examining the impact of different fatty acids  on liver health and metabolism, as well as milk production helped elucidate diet formulations and proactive measures Kristina can take on farm to keep transition dairy cows healthy.

Not only did Kristina complete her Ph.D., but she also received her Master’s degree at UW-Madison under Dr. Lou Armentano and received her Bachelor’s from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.

Outside of research, Kristina enjoys volleyball, biking, and cooking/baking!

Dr. Tawny Chandler

Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Cornell University

Tawny played a unique role in the White Lab as Dr. White’s first graduate student: both Master’s and Ph.D. As a part of her master’s research, she conducted an efficacy trial that evaluated the effects of supplementing conjugated linoleic acid to transition cows on a commercial dairy farm. Because the herd was milked with 7 Lely robotic milk units, Tawny was able to investigate a multitude of daily measures from each cow. Using indicators such as daily rumination, activity, milk, milk fat percent, milk protein percent, milk temperature, milk conductivity, and body weight may help identify fresh cows more susceptible to metabolic disorders.

For her Ph.D. program, Tawny focused on metabolic flux with the treatments of methionine and choline using a cell culture model to mimic the transition period in vivo. Measuring a variety of metabolites from glucose to BHB, to glycogen to TG, Tawny was able to elucidate through the help of a tracing radioisotope how hepatocytes metabolize fatty acids and the effect methionine and/or choline had in this process.

Tawny enjoys watching old black and white films and baking delicious desserts!

Dr. Qian Zhang

Postdoctoral Research Fellow


Qian joined Heather’s lab as a postdoctoral research fellow in August 2015. Her major focus is to investigate the effects of nutrients (different forms of methionine (Met), conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), etc.) on liver metabolism and function using primary bovine hepatocyte cell culture as a model. Benefits of supplementation of Met or CLA have been observed on production performance of dairy cows. The goal of Qian’s research is to illustrate the hepatic responses to these nutrients at the level of gene expression and provide fundamental guidelines for promoting production and health of dairy cows, especially during the transition period.

Qian got her master from China Agriculture University in June 2010 and her Ph.D. from Purdue University, Indiana in May 2015. Qian likes jogging, dancing, playing badminton and watch movies. 

Valentina Caprarulo


Visiting PhD student

Valentina was a PhD student in Nutritional Science at the University of Milan, Italy. The PhD research activity is focused on animal nutrition aimed to investigate different aspects of animal nutrition and feed technology. Under the supervision of Dr. White, I have a great opportunity to following a research study aimed to investigate the mechanism of choline action in transition dairy cows.

Frankie Tiberio, MS

Nutritionist at VitaPlus



For her masters research, Frankie conducted a trial at UW’s Arlington Research Farm to determine the relationship between body condition score and onset of ketosis, and if residual feed intake (RFI) is correlated with incidence of ketosis. Her master’s degree was unique in that she participated as Vita Plus’s fellowship student. As a fellowship student, Frankie worked part-time for Vita Plus while completing her degree. She completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois in Animal Science where she participated in Dairy Challenge, Dairy Judging, and the Illini Dairy Club.