Environmental Biophysics & Photosynthesis
The study of matter and its motion through space and time is essential to oceanography, with physical processes spanning the subcellular to macroscale over millisecond to annual frames. Marine phytoplankton have influenced our profoundly shaped our planet through the oxygenation of the Earth’s atmosphere and the removal of fixed CO2 to the deep ocean by photosynthesis and sinking, a process called the ‘biological pump’. The process ultimately derives from their innate ability to capture protons and electrons from water and transport them across membranes in photosystems. These types of subcellular biophysical interactions drive the function and evolution of proteins, biochemical processes and biological cell systems. At the same time, the physical motion of water is integral to marine life, affecting organism form and function through ecological interactions and transport processes. Water movement provides communication signals and behavioral cues to small plankton and larvae. Likewise, fluid forces affect the mechanics and energetics of swimming and the ability of bottom-dwellers to remain attached to the seabed. Turbulence, waves, and currents carry planktonic organisms and determine how they are distributed in space and time. Collectively, these water motions are a selective force, driving behavior, body shapes, and other adaptations that help organisms thrive. Ongoing departmental research investigates biophysical form and function of photosynthesis and related metabolic pathways, as well as how organism-flow interactions affect motion sensing and swimming behavior, energetics, larval transport and settlement, and gene flow among marine populations.