I am a geomicrobiologist and assistant professor of environmental biology within the Division of Natural Sciences at Maryville College in Tennessee. To understand the mutual interactions between microorganisms and their surroundings, I harness the power of an interdisciplinary approach, bridging the divide between the fields of Earth and Life science. This exciting work allows me to investigate the relationships between microorganisms and their environment in some of the most extreme places on Earth, including boiling hot springs , energy-starved, deeply buried marine sediments, Arctic sediments, Antarctic permafrost, and high-altitude hypersaline lakes.
While at Maryville College, I continue to collaborate on the NASA Astrobiology Institute ENIGMA project. I am also part of the NSF-funded Arctic Research Coordination Network, Migrations in Harmony, which aims to support a resilient, just, and sustainable Arctic in motion. I’m also an instructor for the Bioinformatics Virtual Coordiatation Network, formed in response to COVID-19 forcing researchers to move their experiments from the lab to the computer.
I received my B.Sc. in Biology (2011) from Tennessee Technological University. I received my M.Sc. in Geoscience (2014) and Ph.D. in Microbiology (2018) from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I was a postdoctoral fellow under the co-advisement of Dr. Robert Hazen and Dr. Donato Giovannelli at the Earth and Planets Laboratory at Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC (2019-2020).
My academic journey may have seemed disjointed – going from zoology, to geology, to microbiology. Independently, each of these fields do in fact use very different tools and have unique perspectives to offer. My inexhaustible curiously about nature and our place in space drove me to each of these fields. I’m a interdisciplinarian and understand that the marriage of knowledge gained from each discipline leads us to answer bigger questions about our universe than each discipline could answer alone.
I combine my background in geoscience with a diverse toolkit of novel molecular methods, sequencing analysis, bioinformatics tools, and imaging techniques to delve into the interactions between the biosphere and geosphere that make life thrive in some of the harshest, uninhabitable environments. By combining results from wet-lab and in silico experiments, my work provides a holistic understanding of microbial activity in systems characterized by different geochemical regimes. Clues into how life shaped Earth’s environments and vice versa are hypothesized to be written in the DNA of ancient microbial lineages and the rock record. It’s my job to uncover these clues, and unlock the secrets to how life can perhaps evolve on other planets. My field sites include the western coast of Svalbard, Antarctic permafrost, hypersaline lakes in the high Andes mountains and hot springs in the Andean Altiplano.
I am large supporter of science communication - read my blog post about it here. I believe in open science and the removal of paywalls between science and the people. I try to be as transparent as possible with my research by uploading all of my code, protocols, and data to GitHub and appropriate public data repositories.
Despite many programs, grants, and workshops aimed at increasing recruitment and retention of people of color in STEM fields, representation of scholars of color is woefully lacking. Dismantling the centries-old system that allows this to continue requires concerted and unapologetic efforts to decolonize science. This task falls on administrators, granting agencies, educators, and professional societies.
As a STEM professional, I believe building my toolkit of allyship is an integral part of my job. Throughout my academic pursuits, I have been actively involved in numerous organizations and outreach programs to further the inclusion of women and minoritized students in STEM. I founded the Knoxville chapter of 500 Women Scientists in 2017 and through this, we provide scientific programming to young scholars of color in a partnership with East Tennessee Freedom Schools. In the wake of the devastating hurricane Maria in 2017, I organized a local science salon to raise money for researchers in hard-hit Puerto Rico. I was recognized as an extraordinary scientist advocate from the Union of Concerned Scientists for these efforts and have continued to place high priority on mentorship and outreach in my career.
Selected resource compilations:
Image credit: Dr. Sarah Tuttle
I am grateful for past and present funding from the Deep Carbon Observatory, NASA Astrobiology Institute, C-DEBI, the Explorer’s Club, the Society for Sedimentary Geology, the Society for Organic Petrology, and the Geological Society of America.
I was interviewed by the Highland Echo about my thoughts on life in the clouds of Venus. Read the article by S3 scholar, Markayla Love here.
Officially announced as new faculty at MC. I just had to wear my T. rex necklace for my official headshot, haha. Read about it here.
Even though we are scattered across the globe during the pandemic, that did not stop us from exploring data driven discovery projects with the Deep-Time Data Driven Discovery team! The digital meet up allowed me to re-connect with colleagues from around the world, including data scientists from from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Purdue, George Mason, the Carnegie Institution for Science as well as the Universities of Naples, Toronto, and Southern Illinois.
This summer's Scots Science Scholars program at Maryville College looked a little different (masks, social distancing, etc.), but they had a wonderful time learning how to perform geobiological investigations!
I was able to share my advice on navigating a career in STEM to 7th and 8th grade GOALS girls at the Intrepid Museum. My final words of wisdom: Set people free of their expectations for you. Show them you're more than they thought you could be.