Having grown up in the Monterey bay area, I was never very far from the ocean. I remember spending countless hours at the aquarium or along the tide pools and I think it’s safe to say my love of nature grew out of that. I attended SDSU as an undergrad, initially with a major in kinesiology. What attracted me to it was the study of anatomy and physiology, how things work at the most basic level. After some time outside of school I decided to change course, going back to my original passion and applied for the ecology program at SDSU. I currently work under Dr. Matthew Edwards in the Kelp Forest Ecology lab, or as we like to call it the BEERPIG’s (Benthic Ecology Environmental Research, Phycology in General). That’s a big, confusing acronym but what we do is actually pretty easy to understand. We study the organisms which live on the ocean floor, particularly those within kelp forests, with an emphasis on algae that forms the bulk of that ecosystem.
My broad research interests are in algal physiology. Specifically, how algae will respond to changing environments under climate change, and the mechanisms of photosynthesis. I am also very excited about the potential biotech uses of algae, such as the development of algal-based biofuels.
My own research has focused on what effect climate change will have on the largest and arguably most important alga in the forest, the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera. We know that because of our actions, in the future the ocean will be warmer, more acidic, and have more CO2. My research asks what effect CO2 and temperature will have on the physiology of giant kelp, such as how fast it grows and how it performs photosynthesis. In addition, I was interested in seeing if higher temperature and CO2 interacted at all when kelp is exposed to both. Turns out, they do! When I raised giant kelp under high CO2, it had no effect. When I raised them under high temperature, all the kelp died. But when I put those two factors together, the kelp grew faster and healthier than in any of the other treatments. This was pretty surprising, and I am now performing experiments to determine what is going on in the kelp that causes them to react in such a way.
Being a biologist is the best job I could ask for! I get to study the natural world, and in doing so help to protect it for all of us.
While my research is certainly interesting, I must admit that the average day in the life of a scientist can look pretty dull from the outside. Usually my days involve monitoring the health of my specimens, making sure that the system is operating the way it should be, and dealing with whatever crisis happens to be happening that day. Once it’s time to run the experiments things kick into high gear, and while I’ve never been a huge fan of statistics (who is?), it allows me to analyze data to see what exactly I learned from my study. The best parts of my job are when I get to go diving in the kelp forest. I was never a diver before I entered my program, and now I’m completely hooked!
Becoming a biologist was one of the best decisions I have made! I count myself lucky that I have the opportunity to make a living studying something I have such a passion for.