July 6, 2012
Before we get into the nitty gritty of cruise life and work, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Michael Brendan Morando Jr. but in the science world I go by Mo. Why would I do such a thing?? There are just too many Michaels out there and in high school to make things simpler my name was abbreviated to Mike Mo and then eventually to just Mo. I have kept this moniker in certain circles ever since, but feel free to call me whatever you want. Within reason…
So lets start from the beginning…I was born in New Jersey and spent most of my life there. Despite what people who have never been to Jersey before might think, it is a beautiful place and I often miss it.
Some random facts:
I have two siblings, a younger brother and sister.
I love all kinds of music and play a little guitar.
I really love animals.
I am a vegetarian and have been one for about 6 years.
I am a big sports fan, particularly football.
My favorite color is orange.
That’s enough rambling for now, I think.
I grew up in a lake community, so water has always been a big part of my life and probably contributed to my chosen career path. I decided very early on that I wanted the ocean and marine science to play a big part in my life. Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with the ocean and wondered how it all worked. It has always just seemed so vast and important. Often when I tell people what I do they say, with a glint in their eye, “I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was a kid!” I guess I never grew up.
I attended the University of Miami in Florida for my undergraduate degree. I was a double major in marine sciences and biology with a minor in chemistry. I really enjoyed college; I learned a lot, met some amazing people, and had some great opportunities. After I graduated I worked as a researcher in a lab at the graduate school for marine sciences at UMiami for about a year, took some time to travel, then started my studies at USC.
Currently I am a graduate student at USC in the Marine and Environmental Biology program, studying to be a biogeochemist. USC has a very distinguished faculty that has contributed greatly to the field. Our faculty is from all over the world and studies a wide range of areas. From microbes that live below the sea floor to constructing whole genomes of organisms to the genetics of growing oysters bigger and quicker. Many have published in very esteemed journals such as Science and Nature and are very respected worldwide. One such faculty member is my advisor, Dr. Doug Capone. Doug studies biogeochemistry, surfs (or at least used to more frequently), and is a huge USC football fan. He has traveled all over the world on many different research cruises and collaborated with many great scientists.
So, as I said earlier, I study biogeochemistry. Sounds pretty intense right? It’s like every sciencey word combined…except physics, but who needs physics? It is a big word that makes me seem much smarter than I am. It involves studying the cycling of nutrients and how they interact with both living and non-living things and processes. My research focuses on the nitrogen cycle (see image below). I don’t want to go into too much detail but the graph shows how nitrogen changes forms through different processes as you move along the cycle.
Why study an element like nitrogen, you ask? Well, nitrogen is a nutrient and it is necessary for organisms to metabolize and grow. It’s the main nutrient in both amino acids and proteins, and they are building blocks for life. Organisms require certain nutrients to grow e.g., carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, etc… and these nutrients must be in a certain ratio. If you have don’t have enough of one nutrient, you can’t grow and you are limited by that nutrient. Let’s say you need 100 carbons, 20 nitrogens, and 1 phosphorous molecule to grow and you have 50 molecules of each. Even though you would have plenty of nitrogen and phosphorous, you would run out of carbon and not be able to grow. In the ocean, nitrogen tends to run out first and be the limiting factor. By studying this nutrient and its forms, you can have a better idea of the capacity of the ecosystem to grow, differentiate, and react to change. I explore this through a technique called stable isotope probing, but I will discuss that later.
Finally, I just want to encourage you to please ask any questions you would like about the boat, the research, anything you’d like explained more thoroughly, or even little ol’ me. Alright, time for me to sign off. It’s been great getting to know you…or you getting to know me, rather. Till next time!