My interests

My research focuses on how streamflow patterns and water velocity interact with other environmental variables (light, nutrients, temperature) to structure freshwater algal communities. I am using in-stream experiments and modeling to better understand conditions that promote excessive algal growth, which can degrade water quality and harm both humans and ecosystems. When I’m not scrubbing rocks with a toothbrush to collect my algae samples, I enjoy hiking, biking, cooking, and traveling. I also enjoy volunteering and have led student trips to Washington DC, Boston, and New Zealand, focusing on topics like homelessness, urban agriculture, and environmental conservation.

How I became a scientist

When I entered college as an undergraduate, I wanted to double major in international business and Spanish and was actually quite intimidated by science courses. I took environmental science as a freshman and loved how applicable the material was to real world problems like water quality and climate change that affect people every day. I became excited about environmental policy and took science classes just so I could gain a basic background in soil and water pollution and management. For a senior year internship and for two years after graduating, I worked at the Environmental Protection Agency. Most of my job involved synthesizing scientific data, reading proposals and publications, and communicating science to various audiences. Then I got tired of reading about all the cool science that other people were doing and decided to enter graduate school to complete research that helps inform policy-makers and managers. My ecological work combines principles from the geosciences and biology to explore what conditions make streams susceptible to excessive algal growth.

How my work benefits society

Algae is a critical part of stream food webs, transferring sunlight energy to higher trophic levels like insects and fish. However, too much algae can harm ecosystems (by lowering stream dissolved oxygen) and human health (by creating toxins). Algal blooms can also be aesthetically displeasing or cause drinking water to have a foul taste or odor. Over-enrichment of nutrients from fertilizers, wastewater, and atmospheric deposition is a large culprit in this problem. But algae in streams will respond differently to nutrients based on light levels, streamflow patterns, water temperature, and other environmental factors. By providing research on how algae responds to heterogeneous environments, I can help managers protect water quality in a cost-effective and efficient way. My modeling studies will help managers predict which streams are most vulnerable to algal blooms so they can take preventative action. Additionally, states are currently setting numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in freshwater bodies. This is a challenging task because there is not always a predictable stressor-response relationship between nutrients and algae. My project will help determine how criteria can be spatially targeted based on the stream environmental conditions.