I'm a graduate student from the University of Delaware, working with Dr. Craig Cary. Most of the research I do involves using molecular genetics to study the microbial communities living in and around the hydrothermal vents.
What questions are you working to answer?
On this cruise, we'll be deploying a piece of equipment that will be used to sample newly formed vents; the ultimate goal is to find out which microbes first colonize the new chimneys on the seafloor. So on the ship I'll mainly be studying samples of these vents and preserving them to bring back to our lab in Delaware.
Another major question we have about the vent microbes is: how do they use the chemicals in their environment for energy and growth? We know they can't use sunlight or the direct products of sunlight like other organisms closer to the surface, but we still need to figure out which chemicals they use and how it all works. So another of my jobs on the ship will be to work with a water sampler called the Sipper, which is used to take small samples from around the vents and worm tubes we're studying. I'll make sure the Sipper is in good working condition between each dive and then work with the water samples that come up each evening to find out what types of chemicals are in each sample.
Why is this research important?
One big reason these questions are important is because hydrothermal vent systems may have played a part in the early evolution of life on Earth. The closer we get to understanding the links between chemistry and biology, the more we can infer about that evolution. Also, in a lot of ways this research is analogous to searching for and studying life beyond Earth. Studying organisms living in some of Earth's most extreme environments may someday help us to learn if (and how) life is functioning elsewhere.
Whats your educational background and what lured you into marine research?
I received my B.S. in marine biology from Texas A&M University. After that, I spent a few years doing aquaculture research with shrimp and cephalopods before deciding to switch to deep-sea research for my advanced degree. I think the main that that hooked me on marine research is the vastness of the field. It is incredibly interdisciplinary. There are so many questions to be answered and discoveries to be made.