Spotlight Series: Dr. Nicolas Van Oostende

“Spotlight Series” is a group of posts designed to introduce you to the other members of the science team on the research expedition.  Each scientist and his/her research will be featured – I provided the prompts and the scientists added their own information (my comments will be in brackets: [ ]).  Feel free to ask questions about what they are studying and how they became interested in science!

Dr. Nicolas Van Oostende

Dr. Van Oostende aboard the R/V Endeavor

Dr. Van Oostende aboard the R/V Endeavor

Dr. Van Oostende is from Ghent, Belgium and is a post-doctoral researcher at Princeton.

What is your field of study? I consider myself a microbiological oceanographer.  My field is a subset of biological oceanography but specifically focuses on microscopic organisms (the main biomass of the ocean) and their distribution.

What research are you studying on the Endeavor? I study the community structure of phytoplankton, or the relative abundance of the components in the ecological community.  Using flow cytometry [this was discussed yesterday in the McLane Pump post], I divide microorganisms by various properties – size and pigment composition are two examples.

In relation to biogeochemistry (the chemical cycles), I look at the interaction between microorganisms’ identity and function (e.g. do they produce biominerals, are they large or small, slow or fast-growing), and how that relates to what they’re doing in the ocean.

I am performing various analyses during the expedition – primary production measurements using flow cytometry to characterize the community, and nutrient  and carbon isotope uptake experiments to quantify rates of activity.


Previously, I studied carbon isotopes to look at calcification (like the remains of algae that created the cliffs of Dover).

The cliffs of Dover (photo from Wikipedia).  The white is essentially the skeletons of dead algae over thousands of years.

The cliffs of Dover (photo from Wikipedia). The white is essentially the skeletons of dead algae over thousands of years.


How did you become interested in science? I have always been interested in science.  I always did experiments when I was little and I liked blowing stuff up.  My grandmother gave me a chemistry kit when I was younger.  I find biology the most interesting of the sciences because it is much more diverse and alive than the others.

Plans for the future:  I am not sure I want to stay in academia [college-level education], and am considering a job in the private sector.  I would like something in which I can utilize my microbiology and biological modeling skills in a research-based environment.

 Educational background: My education has been at Ghent University.  I was in an international program and collaborated with other scientists in Germany, Holland, France.  The educational system is different than in the United States – a bachelors degree takes two years, then another three years for a masters degree.  Once that is complete, you can begin your doctoral work for three-four years.

I had a difficult time choosing what I wanted to study.  I very much like plants, but zoology [in a nutshell, the study of animals] was more fun.  I did my masters thesis on pollination of bees using artificial flowers.

Back to Ms. B:

There are so many scientific fields and exciting topics to research – a career in the sciences is full of possibilities!

Until next time,

Ms. B.


2 thoughts on “Spotlight Series: Dr. Nicolas Van Oostende

  1. Cristina Medlin says:

    I didn’t even know microbiology oceanography existed; even the first sentence in this passage taught me a lot.

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