Brett is a non-traditional student, returning for a Ph.D. after working as a microbiology lab manager at UC Berkeley for almost 10 years. “Re-entry into the classroom was a challenge, to say the least. There are great resources and technology close at hand at U-M that made it easier. Michigan has a beautiful campus, and there is a lot of great research going on.” While he enjoys highlights like the Ann Arbor Art Fair in the summer, Brett finds himself more often exploring the woods with his son, Silas, when he’s not in the lab.
His dissertation research involves genome sequencing of microbes in nature, specifically those found in deep ocean hydrothermal plumes. “There are so many microbes out there we know little about. One handful of dirt contains thousands of species, and new kingdoms of life, that we know nothing about. Many scientists study microbes by growing them on a plate, but less that 0.1% of what’s present in nature can be grown.”
“The main driver for me is climate change. There is an increasing amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and this is consumed by microbes in the oceans. Ultimately, my research aims to understand which microbes use this carbon and how they metabolize it in the deep ocean. Understanding this is an important part of tracking the flow of carbon on the planet, and how humans are altering it.”
His next step will be to look at different environments, specifically sediments on the ocean floor. “I want to close the loop on the global carbon cycle.” Brett is pursuing a Marine Sciences faculty position after graduation.