I chose MIT, and specifically Roman’s lab, for the unique opportunity to apply tools created with an engineering perspective — microfluidics — to questions relevant for coral reef ecology and conservation. Nanofabrication techniques allow us to create small devices out of a silicon-based polymer. We can precisely control the physical and chemical environment inside the microfluidic devices, and view it directly with a high-speed video microscope. These devices let me re-create the chemical and physical environment that a coral pathogen will experience in the ocean and watch how the pathogen behaves at the scale on which it actually occurs in the ocean, the microscale. I’m testing how different environmental conditions, such as warmer temperatures, affect their behavior and their ability to find and infect a coral host. We know at the macroscale that coral reefs are getting sick and dying all over the globe, but it’s a rare opportunity to look directly at the mechanisms that may be driving that pattern on the microscale.
An average teaspoon of ocean water contains five million bacteria and fifty million viruses – and yet we are just starting to discover how these "invisible engineers" control our ocean's chemistry.