The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how vulnerable the world population is to the next deadly virus. Understanding how these viruses spread through human populations and where they come from is vital to prevent the next global public health crisis.

The Washington Post brings together epidemiologist Christopher Golden, PhD, and field scientist Kendra Phelps, PhD, to discuss National Geographic’s new series about how scientists are piecing together cultural, medical and environmental factors to trace the origins of deadly diseases and help stave off future pandemics.



Christopher Golden, PhD, Ecologist & Epidemiologist, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Ecologist and epidemiologist Dr. Chris Golden is a professor of nutrition and planetary health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where he investigates the nexus of trends in global environmental change and human health.

He holds a B.A. from Harvard College and an M.P.H. in epidemiology and a Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of California, Berkeley.

For the past 20 years, Dr. Golden has been conducting environmental and public health research in Madagascar, where he created the nonprofit Madagascar Health and Environmental Research (MAHERY). More recently, he has launched a similar research initiative in the South Pacific. His research has been published more than 10 times in Nature, Science, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kendra Phelps, PhD, Field Scientist

In her work creating bat surveillance networks in Western Asia, Dr. Kendra Phelps applies her keen interest in the ways that humans alter our own environment. Through establishing a network of bat disease ecologists in the region, which has previously been poorly studied, Dr. Phelps aims to expand our knowledge of the diseases bats can potentially spread to humans, and the ways in which we can shift our own behaviors to prevent such disease spillovers.

Dr. Phelps earned a B.S. from Auburn University and a Ph.D. in Zoology from Texas Tech University. She also worked in the Philippines as a Fulbright Fellow, where she studied cave-dwelling bats’ responses to cave disturbance and the interactions people living near those caves had with the bat populations.

Before joining EcoHealth Alliance, Dr. Phelps worked as a lecturer and research associate at her alma mater, Texas Tech.