I'm an oceanographer and engineer with broad interests in marine phytoplankton ecology. The questions that motivate me the most are those that examine how phytoplankton respond to changes in the oceanic light environment. Phytoplankton aren’t the simple ‘wandering plants’ that their name implies; they are complex photosynthetic microbes well adapted for harvesting sunlight from the ocean’s continually varying light field. My research aims to decipher the complex photosynthetic behaviors we see in phytoplankton, in order to gain more insight into how these critical marine microbes contribute to oceanic processes such as primary production.
My main tool for examining complexity in photosynthesis is the weak red fluorescence that phytoplankton emit while they absorb light energy. Oceanographers measure this fluorescence primarily to determine the biomass and distributions of phytoplankton in the ocean. However, changes in this fluorescence can also provide important information on their health and physiological state, provided that this variability is properly interpreted. Much of my research in the past five years has focused on developing the new theory and observational capabilities that are needed to better exploit these complex yet data rich photosynthetic responses to light.
My research is strongly interdisciplinary and novel instrumentation & engineering approaches play an important role in my laboratory and field studies. My engineering efforts focus a lot on autonomous, 'robotic' sampling of phytoplankton properties in the open ocean and in ice-covered polar regions. Engineering also plays a strong theoretical role in my research, such as how engineering principles can be used to understand the dynamics of photosynthesis in the ocean.