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!

 

Elizabeth Shoenfelt [EAPS Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow]

Elizabeth is MIT-EAPS’ 2018 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).

 

Tyler Tamasi [MIT/WHOI PhD Student]

Tyler is a second year PhD student in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography. During his undergrad work, Tyler studied chemistry at Princeton with a focus on energy and environmental issues. As an intern with the Princeton Environmental Institute, he had the opportunity to sail with Andrew and still, somehow, decided to continue working with him (of course, Andrew did wake him up to see a whale shark, so he’ll forever be in his debt).

While working on his undergraduate thesis in the Loo Lab synthesizing new materials for organic solar cells, Tyler also branched into the field with an internship installing solar panels in off-grid areas of the Philippines with Stiftung Solarenergie Philippines. No matter what he was researching, he suspiciously always found a way to wind up closer to the sea…

After getting his bachelor’s degree, Tyler worked for a small energy investment firm in Washington, D.C. He spent two years modeling the US electrical grid before the call to return to the adventures of science and oceanography was too hard to resist. In the bablab, Tyler is focusing on the biogeochemistry of nitrogen cycling in marine environments, from coral polyps to the open ocean, with a current focus on coral reefs.

When he’s not probing biogeochemical cycles, Tyler loves to travel to far-flung locales, improve his scuba skills, and fail at brewing coffee. Luckily Andrew has a Nespresso machine in his office so Tyler can remain caffeinated.

 

Donald Martocello [MIT/WHOI PhD Student]

Don is a first year Ph.D. student in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Chemical Oceanography. Don earned his bachelors in Geosciences from Princeton University where he explored trace metal limitation of marine heterotrophic bacteria as a member of the Morel Trace Metals Group. Don is driven to understand the micro-scale underlying processes that regulate and control global elemental cycling. To this end, Don is largely focused on quantitatively evaluating how the availability of trace metals (e.g., iron and copper) and oxygen impact the metabolisms of bacteria involved in the nitrogen cycle. From incorporating mass spectrometers to flow cytometers to microfluidic devices into his research, Don is excited to be a part of bablab’s mission to boldly explore the microbial realm (and pay homage to his encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek).

When Don isn’t growing cells, analyzing data, or playing with a new instrument (after carefully learning how not to break it), he loves to be outdoors. As an Eagle Scout, Don is always seeking new adventures… or sometimes just a nap in a hammock. Don also loves to cook and bake and brings in his latest kitchen experiments for bablab to sample from time to time. We are quite content to serve as his guinea pigs.

 

Diana Dumit [MIT Geochemistry PhD Student]

Diana is a first 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.

 

Susan Mullen [MIT*18; Research Associate]

Susan is a research associate in the bablab. She graduated with a bachelor’s in Biology from MIT. During her undergrad, she worked at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research in Prof. Frank Gertler’s lab. Her first project there was studying the effect of hypoxia on the Kras protein levels in human lung and pancreatic cancer cells (woah, so different from marine biogeochemistry!).

Her interests in field work and the environment stem from a summer internship at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore India, with Dr. Shannon Olsson. There she spent 3 months investigating the effect of pollution on the heartbeat of the southeast Asian giant honey bee. After this experience, she was hooked on environmental sciences (to our total benefit!) and had the opportunity to take Andrew’s Field Oceanography class her senior spring. She first set sail (literally) with Andrew on the SSV Corwith Cramer as part of the class and when she heard Andrew was doing more research in the Eastern Tropical North Pacific she jumped at the opportunity to voyage with him again on the R/V Falkor! There, she integrated her knowledge about biology and chemistry to explore nutrient chemistry and their effects on RNA expression. Since that fateful summer, she has been working to understand how microbial communities (centered around nitrogen cycling, of course) communicate with each other to affect overall growth and nutrient dynamics.

When not in the lab, Susan enjoys baking with lots of chocolate, hiking in New Hampshire, and practicing ballet.

 

Jarek Kwiecinski [MIT 2nd Year Undergrad Researcher]

Jarek is a second 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 nutrie
nt 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.

Elisabeth Boles [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. In addition to being a brilliant scientist, she regularly performs in plays and sings.

Einat Segev [Former Postdoctoral Researcher]

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

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