“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 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).
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,