1. Who are you, where are you from, what is your role in the project?
I’m a postdoctoral fellow within the University of Hawaii NASA Astrobiology Institute. Jim Cowen & I began discussing various
possibilities for combining cutting-edge techniques for in situ chemical measurements and in situ sample filtration,
especially for investigations of the subseafloor biosphere, during an ASLO meeting in 2004. Actually becoming a co-PI has
been a pretty big step up in overall tasks and responsibilities compared to when I was a graduate student, but I’ve really
enjoyed playing a larger role in the design, planning, and implementation of the entire project at each step from writing
the initial proposal to actually doing the science.
2. What questions/problems are you addressing/trying to answer, & why?
The big question driving the science is, “What is the synergy between geochemistry and microbes in the subseafloor?”. Tackling this kind of question has required significant instrumentation development, and it has been a lot of fun working with AIS, McLane, and our UH Engineering Support Group to design an instrument package capable of obtaining all the data & samples we want. The potential for what we may actually find by deploying these instruments is equally exciting, as the subseafloor is a largely unexplored system. There’s been growing evidence that microbes exist within the rocks below the seafloor, but contamination and sampling techniques have limited our understanding of the true nature of subseafloor hydrothermal fluids. We are fortunate to have access to the new CORK observatory installation, which should yield unprecedented purity of samples. Accessing cleaner samples should provide for more reliable results. On top of that, by collecting chemical data in situ, we eliminate the chance for mixing or temporal artifacts in our measurements. This is always exciting when doing so in a new environment where the chemical speciation is largely uncertain. Similarly, by filtering the water samples in situ, we also minimize any changes that microbial communities may undergo in the time between sample collection and filter-fixation.
3. What brought you to your current career position (how'd you come to be in marine sciences-related field?)?
When I was four years old I told my parents that I wanted to be a marine “biogilist”. I may not have been able to pronounce it correctly, but there was certainly some kind of attraction to the sea pretty early on. Eventually, I took some summer marine education related camps around the Chesapeake Bay & that pretty much sealed the deal. I did my undergraduate work at Penn State University, majoring in biology and minoring in marine science. After briefly entertaining the thought of taking off a few years to be a ski bum, I decided that I’d probably never get back to school, so upon undergraduate graduation, I began a master’s program at the University of Delaware. There I had a great time working in the coastal bays of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. After completing a M.S., I stayed at UD (but switched advisors) for a Ph.D., and began learning a lot more chemistry, including solid-state voltammetry, as well as molecular biology. The interdisciplinary nature of my Ph.D. dissertation really gave me an advantage when thinking about post-doc opportunities, and I came to the University of Hawaii NASA Astrobiology Institute as a postdoctoral fellow in July 2004.