As a Seattle-area native, my connection to the ocean started in childhood, but it was my 9th grade biology teacher’s inspiration that led to my pursuit of a career in marine science. I arrived at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in December 2012 and affiliated with the University of South Alabama the following August.
My professional path started in Seattle and included stops in New York (Long Island University), Oregon (Oregon State University), and California (University of California Santa Barbara) prior to arriving in Alabama. I am happy to call the Gulf Coast home and to be part of the DISL community.
PhySSi (Phytoplankton, Sulfur, & Silicon) Lab
My laboratory studies how phytoplankton (marine single-cell plants), especially diatoms, cycle energy and elements in the ocean, and the processes promoting the efficient transfer of their material to higher organisms (e.g. primary and secondary consumers like zooplankton and larval fish). My team conducts research from our local coastal waters to the vast open-ocean gyres, and we have worked in systems spanning from the equator to the high Arctic. The Plankton Zoo, image below, was taken aboard a research cruise in the Alaskan Arctic and shows the marvelous diversity of organisms one can see by looking within a few milliliters of seawater.
We are always looking for creative, motivated and hard-working individuals. Please see the DISL Job Postings page for laboratory opportunities or email me to inquire about potential graduate student opportunities.
While phytoplankton may not sound important, nothing could be further from the truth. Phytoplankton give us the three “F”s
- “Fumes” to breathe, specifically oxygen. In fact, phytoplankton provide the oxygen in 1 of every 2 breaths we take, the rest comes from land plants.
- “Food” to eat. Like plants on land, phytoplankton are the base of the oceanic food web, meaning nearly all animal life in the ocean ultimately depends on phytoplankton producing food through process of photosynthesis.
- “Fuel” to our way of life. Many people joke that crude oil comes from dinosaurs, but crude oil is actually the ancient remains of phytoplankton which have been compressed and modified by the environment over millions of years.
While my research is diverse, I am best known for studying diatoms, a group of phytoplankton which have a characteristic shell made of glass. Diatoms are important because:
- Globally, this group alone produces as much of the oxygen as all the rain forests combined.
- Diatoms are the dominant group of phytoplankton in regions with the most productive fisheries (e.g., Northern Gulf of Mexico, Monterey Bay, Peru).
- Diatoms have many industrial applications including livestock feed and toothpaste additives, to micro- and nanotechnology including computing and pharmaceutical applications.
- Diatom shells are a marvel of nature’s creativity and engineering.