I am an undergraduate researcher in Earth System Science, and I research how phytoplankton change their colors in response to their environment. Phytoplankton are tiny organisms in the ocean that photosynthesize, which means they take up carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. They are essentially microscopic plants that live on the surface of the ocean—and just like plants, they need fertilizer to grow. One fertilizer that is essential for them is iron. I study how different concentrations of iron help them grow, and how their colors change in response to those different iron concentrations. Since phytoplankton take up about as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as land plants, learning how they respond to environmental changes will be important in understanding how they will respond to environmental changes in the near future.
As well as looking at how iron limitation affects phytoplankton health, I am also working on a project that will be studying how phytoplankton change pigments in response to different colored light environments. Certain phytoplankton, called cyanobacteria, are able to change their pigments to absorb different wavelengths of light. This change in pigmentation is called chromatic adaptation. I will be studying how the cyanobacteria Synechococcus chromatically adapts to the different wavelengths of light available in the ocean, and comparing with how they chromatically adapt under different iron concentrations. My research is funded by the UCI Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).