Andrew Babbin [Assistant Professor]

Andrew started an appointment as an Assistant Professor in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences in January 2017. Exciting things have been happening as the lab has grown ever since!

Andrew began his academic career at High Technology High School, where he was first exposed to the scientific process of hypothesis-making and statistical testing, and  pretty much never looked back. He then pursued a Bachelor of Science at Columbia University in Earth & Environmental Engineering and Applied Math before moving on to his doctoral studies at Princeton University in the Geosciences department. At Princeton, and specifically in Bess Ward’s lab, he investigated all aspects of the nitrogen cycle – from nitrogen fixation to phytoplankton uptake to nitrification to denitrification (it is this last aspect in which I specialized). Using a combination of isotopic-labelling techniques and molecular biology, he was able to determine a number of chemical controls on the microbial processes that in turn control marine chemistry. As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, he then began to envision how one could combine nitrogen biogeochemistry with microfluidic techniques to examine directly the chemical controls on marine nitrogen cycling. This work, funded by the National Science Foundation, was greatly enabled by Roman Stocker‘s lab at MIT (although it has since traversed across the ocean to ETH Zürich).

His favorite pastimes are traveling (especially with his partner) to exotic destinations across the world to sample local cuisines, playing competitive softball in Boston and in tournaments around the country, rolling out pounds and pounds of fresh pasta, and sassing his group to no end.

Steven Smriga [Research Scientist]

Steven is the caretaker of all things bablab. His expertise in microbial ecology, molecular biology, oceanography, and microscopy make him vital to all projects in the group. He is simultaneously researcher, advisor, savant, and all-around awesome person. Steven earned his bachelors in Molecular Biology from University of Wisconsin Madison, performing a thesis on diazotrophs with Jill Banfield before moving to Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he studied bacterial communities within coral reefs with Farooq Azam. Steven was further a Postdoctoral Researcher at MIT and ETH Zurich, working with Roman Stocker on chemotaxis of bacterial communities associated with phytoplankton. Steven further has worked in the biotech industry as a Research Scientist with Finch Therapeutics, before returning to MIT to help start the bablab!

Davide Ciccarese [Postdoctoral Associate]

Davide Ciccarese is the latest addition to the lab (for now!), although he has never physically stepped foot in the lab itself 🙁  He earned his PhD in Environmental Microbiology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH). His main research interest is studying the influence of environmental heterogeneities on the metabolic interactions of microbial communities and their spatial self-organization. During his PhD he used synthetic denitrifier microbial communities to investigate the influence of temporal fluctuations in oxygen availability.  His goal was to understand the consequences of the temporal fluctuations on the spatial self-organization of the microbial assemblage and the ability of the assemblage to maintain productivity over time. He joined the bablab to explore the population dynamics of denitrifier in sinking marine particles in the ocean using synthetic ecology approaches and image analysis. Outside the lab he likes to brew beers (from seeds to cheers) often with unpredictable results, bake pizza, garden, take pictures of nature and of his dogs, and climb.

Elizabeth Shoenfelt [EAPS Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow]

Elizabeth is MIT-EAPS’ 2018-2020 W. O. Crosby Postdoctoral Fellow, a department-wide honor. She joins us from Columbia University and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where she earned her PhD in geochemistry. Most broadly, Elizabeth is interested in (1) the interactions among the lithosphere (land), biosphere (living things), and hydrosphere (water) that impact atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate, and (2) incorporating natural mechanisms to develop technologies to ameliorate anthropogenic climate change. She studies how terrestrial mineral nutrients (like iron and silica) fertilize phytoplankton in the ocean and modulate climate over glacial-interglacial cycles. She investigates how the source region and weathering – and the resulting mineralogy – of dust-borne iron and silica impacts the bioavailability of these nutrients to diatoms, since diatoms create heavy silica shells that facilitate the export of fixed carbon the deep ocean and more efficiently lower global temperatures. If we better understand how dust naturally fertilized phytoplankton and lowered temperatures at the Last Glacial Maximum (brrrrr… it was cold then), for instance, we can better understand why human attempts to fertilize ocean phytoplankton in recent history have failed to draw down large amounts of carbon dioxide. She enjoys combining synchrotron-based analytical chemistry techniques (that she learned in her undergraduate years at Princeton) with biological culturing techniques (that she has liked since high school) to study these broad questions. Elizabeth is able to apply her knowledge about minerals to our nitrogen-centric focus to ask deep questions about inter-related elemental cycles. Her interests outside of academia include making art, traveling, cooking, and her Cairn terrier named Torbjörn (I’m convinced she found this name in an Ikea catalog).

Diana Dumit [MIT Geochemistry PhD Student]

Diana is a second year PhD student in geochemistry. She graduated with a bachelor’s in Chemistry with a Biochemistry specialization and Marine Biology from Barry University in Miami, Florida. Her first brush with research was in the Hamilton organic chemistry lab using mechanochemistry to synthesize biologically relevant porphyrins.

Her interests in biogeochemistry stem from a summer research experience at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab with Dr. Ron Kiene. There, she spent 2 months investigating oceanic microbial interactions and the sulfur cycle. After her first taste of biogeochemistry, naturally there was no turning back. Her passion for biogeochemistry brought her all the way from perpetually sunny Florida to the bablab in the frigid Bostonian tundra (at least during winter), where she investigates how microbial communities in oxygen minimum zones interact to impact nitrogen cycling.

When not in the lab, you will probably find Diana doing one of three things: reading the latest novel from the A Song of Ice and Fire series, exploring the New England area with her partner, or visiting her family in Florida.

Irene Zhang [MIT Microbiology PhD Student]

Irene is a second year PhD student in microbiology. She graduated with a bachelor’s from the University of Chicago. She likes art. And cats. And microbes. Not necessarily in that order? More details will ensue!

Jarek Kwiecinski [MIT 4th Year Undergrad Researcher]

Jarek is a fourth year undergraduate in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Jarek grew interested in environmental science after countless trips to the Sandia Mountains near his home outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before coming to MIT, he worked with Robert Sinsabaugh at the University of New Mexico to study microbial growth efficiencies and nitrogen cycling in desert soils. He was introduced to oceanography in the bablab where he learned to make colorimetric nutrient measurements and designed an automated pump system to make this process more efficient. In his freshman summer, he joined the bablab aboard the R/V Falkor and assisted with a range of nutrient chemistry and microbiology experiments. For a life-long resident of a land-locked state, this trip proved to be an exciting first adventure on the high seas. Now, sufficiently hooked on ocean sciences, Jarek is analyzing the wealth of nutrient data collected on the Falkor and applying his programming skills to map data across the ocean expanse.

Ryan Woosley [Principal Research Scientist, Honorary member]

Ryan actually conducts his own carbon-centric operations at MIT, but he’s enabled so much through collaboration and assisting with field expeditions, that he definitely is as much a member of the lab as anyone else.

** ALUMNI **

Einat Segev [Former Postdoctoral Researcher]

Einat has now begun her own lab at the Weizmann Institute;  her impact on the bablab will never fade.

Tyler Tamasi [MIT/WHOI M.S. 2019]

Tyler graduated with a Masters in 2019 from the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography. His research focused on the roles of nitrogen cycling microorganisms in tropical coral systems.

Susan Mullen [MIT*18; Former Research Associate]

Susan was a research associate in the bablab, growing culture after culture of genetically modified organism. She set up many of the microbial and chemical measurements in the lab, and for that, we are eternally grateful. She is now a graduate student at UC Berkeley.

Elisabeth Boles [MIT*18; Former MIT Undergrad Researcher]

Elisa Boles was an incredible undergraduate researcher in the lab. She completed her (award winning!) senior thesis looking at nitrous oxide emissions from the ocean. She is currently a PhD student at Stanford University.

The first bablab outing (and selfie!) — Bubble tea in Chinatown!