Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Zhanfei Liu
Research Area: Organic Geochemistry
Please tell us a little bit about your research project.
My research centers on peptides, which are fragments of proteins. They make up majority of marine biomass and provide nutrition to small microbes with the density of billions per liter in the ocean. When peptides are released into the seawater, bacteria can break them down, take them up, and generate inorganic nutrients subsequently for phytoplankton. Specifically I study how fast and through which pathway peptides are degraded and used by bacteria. My research is getting a better handle on the rates that peptides breakdown in different environments and under different environmental factors. I am also looking at how different microbes can decompose and use peptides. We use modeled peptides in their natural form, and develop our new sensitive method to detect them, which has never been used before. We can detect peptides at lower levels than previous studies. We want to understand how important the decomposition of peptides and other dissolved organic matter are to carbon and nitrogen cycles in our oceans from a broader perspective.
How did you decide you wanted to pursue marine science?
I have loved the ocean since childhood and I always choose my traveling locations based on access to the water. While I was completing my undergraduate thesis, I studied aquatic sciences and lake water chemistry. I really enjoyed it and knew that I wanted to continue that.
In 10 years what would you like to have accomplished?
I want to continue doing research and science. In addition to learning and exploring more in the science field, I would also like to help people outside the science field understand what we are doing. Often when you say that you are doing marine science, everyone assumes marine biology and not many mentions marine chemistry. I would like to help change that. It’s not only the biology that is important and interesting, but also the chemistry.
What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for your research project?
The most exciting moment was when my first first-author manuscript was accepted. I spend several months getting the data, writing the manuscript, and the whole review and revision process took more than one year. The moment when you know it is done and will be published is very exciting. Your name will be on that study forever. Also, the surprising thing is that I would have never imagined that I could do the field work that I did. I have been on several cruises at sea, each lasting for about one week. When the waves are shaking and you are operating a very detailed experiment, it’s a big challenge. But at the end, when you know you get all the samples you need and you will get a lot of interesting data and science out of it, it’s such a big accomplishment and you will never regret it.
What’s been the greatest reward of doing research?
The greatest reward has been to do something that no one has done before. You know you are developing new methods and discovering some new things. It is especially inspiring when you find interesting patterns specific to a unique environment. You want to know more and more - It never ends. Whenever you finish some experiments or analyze some data, you know you are contributing to the science field and helping to understand our ocean better.
What inspires you?
I guess I didn’t have a clear idea of what the science is about before I came here. The accumulation of time in studying, learning and talking to different people has given me lots of inspiration. It is exciting to work with Dr. Zhanfei Liu. He is so enthusiastic about the science and his passion inspires me to learn more about marine science.
Why did you choose UTMSI?
While looking for graduate schools, I searched environmental and marine science field. I knew UT had a good reputation and it was among my top choice for university. It all seemed to fit. I love the aquatic and marine science field. The marine chemistry field and the research in Dr. Zhanfei Liu’s lab are what I am interested in. I also like the weather in Texas. I am a warm person and the location was a consideration for coming here.
What has been your most memorable moment at UTMSI?
Giving the public lecture. I was so excited that a lot of people from around here came to listen to a science and education talk. It felt really good conveying my science ideas to a broader audience. They showed interest and asked a lot of interesting questions. It was nice to experience questions from a different angle outside of science and see that the general public want to know what we are doing. Spreading the knowledge about what we are doing here is exciting.
If you were a marine organisms what would you be and why?
I would like to be a dolphin. It’s not related to what I’m doing now, but they are just adorable.
Shuting Liu graduated from Nanjing University in Nanjing, China in 2010 with a bachelor of science in environmental science. She hails from Nanjing, China and is pursued a Ph.D. degree in marine science. Shuting graduated today and is currently applying for post-doctoral positions.