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Katherine RM Mackey

Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Earth System Science

Marine biogeochemist ~ Phytoplankton biogeographer

University of California Irvine

Earth System Science

Irvine, CA 92697

Office: 3204 Croul Hall

Lab: 1226 Croul Hall



Dr. Kate Mackey is the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine. She leads a large, dynamic lab of talented graduate and undergraduate students who work together and share a passion for research, teaching, science outreach, and promoting diversity in academia. Mackey was named a Simons Foundation Fellow in Marine Microbial Ecology in 2018, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in Ocean Sciences in 2017, and was awarded the inaugural Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2015. Mackey completed postdoctoral research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Cape Cod Massachusetts, where she was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. She received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Stanford University in 2004 and 2010, respectively, and held graduate research fellowships from both the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. She earned two B.S. degrees in Biological Engineering and Plant Science in 2002 at the University of Maryland at College Park.



Marine phytoplankton do half of all photosynthesis on Earth and directly influence global biogeochemical cycles and climate, yet how they will respond to future global change is unknown. As an oceanographer who takes an integrative Earth system approach to research, I address this knowledge gap by studying the biogeochemical activity of phytoplankton over a range of scales, from the cellular level up to global geographical distributions of species and strains. I use culture studies in the laboratory to characterize biochemical processes on a mechanistic level (e.g. photosynthetic pathways, nutrient uptake kinetics), and use field work to verify lab findings, identify the range of responses from natural populations, and determine their implications in nature. A signature of my research is combining emerging techniques such as proteomics and single cell genomics with biogeochemical measurements and modeling to provide global context. This integrative approach is essential because my research is highly interdisciplinary, and the questions I seek to answer span multiple fields of study. My research focuses on three overarching questions:


1. How do phytoplankton sense, acclimate, and adapt to environmental stimuli and global change?


2. What interplay does adaptation cause within natural populations and with their environment?


3. How does the environment drive patterns of phytoplankton diversity and biogeochemical activity?

My research has a strong focus on local environmental issues that affect Southern California, that can be scaled to understand marine biogeochemistry and environmental change globally. Read more about some of the Lab's ongoing projects here and here.

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