Dimitri Deheyn : Associate Research Scientist and Lecturer

Dimitri Deheyn

Associate Research Scientist and Lecturer

My research expertise deals with light production and manipulation in organisms, embracing the full range of scientific opportunities, from fundamental exploration and mechanistic description to potential application for biomedical, bioengineering and/or biotechnological applications.

I have received my Ph.D. from the Free University of Brussels (Belgium) in Marine Sciences, with emphasis on Marine Biology; therefore my model organisms are mainly marine (brittlestars, worms, snails, fish), yet I also conduct research with freshwater (fish) and terrestrial species (butterfly, birds).

I have been conducting my research at SIO since 2004.

Evelien De Meulenaere : Staff Research Associate

Evelien De Meulenaere

Staff Research Associate

"Where does the light in the ocean come from?"

A surprisingly large amount of marine animals produce light for various reasons, including camouflage as well as revealing themselves or others. My research focuses on the biochemistry of light production of the parchment tube worm Chaetopterus sp. and on optical properties of the nudibranch Flabellina (Spanish Shawl), the sea slug Navanax, and the blue Traveller's palm seed. In the mucus secreted by Chaetopterus, we found a super fast ferritin that we are now further characterizing.

I obtained my Masters degree in Biochemistry and my PhD in Bio-engineering at the University of Leuven (Belgium), where I first studied a proposed inhibitor of HIV integrase, and later the nonlinear optical properties of fluorescent proteins along with the (nonlinear) optical properties and the behavior of small molecular dyes inside living cells. I started as a postdoctoral researcher here at Scripps Oceanography in 2014.

Bor-Kai Hsiung : Postdoctoral Researcher

Bor-Kai Hsiung

Postdoctoral Researcher

My research expertise falls under the umbrella of Biomimicry (i.e. sustainable innovations inspired by nature), where the research topics that I am interested in include molecular self-assembly, biomechanics, and functional biological materials, especially biological photonic structures (structural colors). Currently, I am working on a research project sponsored by DARPA to investigate whether or not organisms can communicate with each other via radio frequency without the use of human technology.

I received my Masters in Molecular&Cellular Biology from National Tsing Hua University (Taiwan), and in Biomedical Sciences from UC Riverside, accordingly. Then I obtained my Ph.D. from The University of Akron in Integrated Bioscience with an emphasis on Biomimicry, where I helped Fortune 500 companies brought Biomimicry into their R&D process in the hope for igniting sustainable innovations within these companies.

Sarah-Jeanne Royer : Postdoctoral Researcher

Sarah-Jeanne Royer

Postdoctoral Researcher

My research interest focuses on processes related to plastic degradation and fragmentation in the environment. Prior to this post-doctorate, I investigated on the emissions of greenhouse gases from plastics in the environment at the Center for Microbial Oceanography, Research and Education at the University of Hawaii. I also conducted research on pathways and the fate of marine debris in the ocean at the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii.

My goal is to pursue plastic research to understand better the degradation and fragmentation processes of plastic and its fate in the ocean with a special emphasis on microfibers and its biodegradability and geographical distribution in the ocean and in the atmosphere. My long-last objective is for policymakers to use data from scientists and volunteers to design better laws and policies to reduce plastic production & consumption from the source.

I obtained my PhD at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Barcelona in biological oceanography and biogeochemistry where I started a running group in 2009 to clean our shorelines to prevent plastic items from getting into the ocean. Since then I have been involved with different organizations to protect the ocean. In 2015, I joined Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, which is the biggest organization of beach cleanups in Hawaii. For four years I served as their science advisor and started using data collection from volunteers for citizen science projects.

Jessica Sandoval : PhD Student

Jessica Sandoval

PhD Student

I am an avid explorer, biology-enthusiast, and engineer who is passionate about exploring the oceans. I am working towards completing my doctorate degree in the field of biomimetics and biomechanics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), working with Dr. Dimitri Deheyn and Dr. Michael Tolley (Bioinspired Robotics and Design Lab). My research encompasses biomimetics and recently includes understanding spatial distributions of microplastics/microfibers. My research allows me to study biology (ie suction discs of fishes) to inform and better engineer material systems. For part of the year, I also work as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) pilot on adventures to the deep sea where we sample and learn from the incredible biology and geology of the sea floor.

I received my B.S. from MIT in Biological Engineering, and my M.S. from UCSD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

**Photo by Ed McNichol

Kara Wiggin : Graduate student

Kara Wiggin

Graduate student

My current research aims to understand how degradation and bio-fouling contribute to the fate of microfibers in the environment. In addition, I am developing methods to better detect and characterize microfibers from various marine and terrestrial environments. My overall goal is to influence local and national policymakers to better manage plastic pollution and reduce the amount of single-use plastics used and discarded.

I received my B.S. from Northeastern University in Environmental Science and my M.S. from California State University Long Beach in Biology where I focused on the detection of small sized microplastics in the highly urbanized rivers and harbors around Long Beach, and assessed the effects of environmentally relevant levels of microplastics on invertebrate zooplankton.

Laura Gong : Master Student

Laura Gong

Master Student

I am currently a master student in Marine Biology. I graduated from UC Berkeley majoring in Molecular Environmental Biology. I am fascinated by cool adaptations of marine animals and intrigued to understand their mechanisms and how natural and anthropogenic disturbances affect them. I used to study animal behaviors of jumping spiders and six-armed sea stars in relation to their habitats and phylogeny. In the Deheyn lab, my research focuses on the physical and biochemical mechanisms of bioluminescence in marine animals, which could be further used for applications in biotechnology and biomedicine. Although I love doing research, I have other hobbies such as dancing, rock climbing, skiing, snorkeling and hiking.

Kelly Govenar : Master's Student

Kelly Govenar

Master's Student

I received my bachelor's degree at the University of California, San Diego. I am currently pursuing my Master of Science degree in marine biology. My research focuses on sea anemones and their fluorescence as a potential indicator of coastal waters health. I am particularly interested in environmental toxicology and how metals are affecting the intertidal zone with an aim to find a proxy for early stress in this particular environment. Fluorescence of sea anemones as a proxy would provide a non-invasive assay that is fast and efficient. My other passion is geology. I am an appreciator, collector, and seller of fine minerals found in nature. I also enjoy scuba diving, kick-boxing, jewelry making, and painting. I am grateful to be a part of the Deheyn lab and I look forward to my future research.

Esther Hua : B.S./M.S. Student

Esther Hua

B.S./M.S. Student

Currently a master student, I joined Deheyn lab as an undergraduate student with a major in marine biology. My research interest lies in investigating different bioluminescence mechanisms. During my senior year, I worked on the comparison of bioluminescence mechanism of a deep-sea anemone, Umbellula magniflora, and its shallow-water relative, Renilla reniformis. Right now my master thesis project focuses on the light production in the mucus of a marine tubeworm, Chaetopterus variopedatus, and the role of iron and ferritin in this process.

Kotachi (Zida) Liu : B.S./M.S. Student

Kotachi (Zida) Liu

B.S./M.S. Student

I am an engineer and biologist fascinated by the innovative potential found in nature's materials. I am interested in understanding and emulating their structures and assembly processes that grant them unique and multifunctional properties their constituents do not possess alone. I am working towards completing my masters degree in Marine Biology at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego), working with Dr. Dimitri Deheyn and Dr. Marc Meyers (Center for Biological, Bioinspired and Bio-materials). I use the Chaetopterus worm's housing tube as a model to study the rapid-assembly process of complex and resilient biological materials for the development of engineered materials.

I am passionate about both ocean life and technology. I am working with Dr. Jules Jaffe (Underwater Imaging Laboratory) to develop a remotely operated vehicle that transmits live video for the Birch Aquarium to provide visitors with an interactive experience. I received my B.S. in Chemical Engineering and my B.S. in Physiology & Neuroscience from UC San Diego.

Sarah Romero : Undergraduate Student

Sarah Romero

Undergraduate Student

I am a fourth year Marine Biology student studying at UCSD. I am interested in studying how common sunscreens affect coral. My research focuses on how sunscreen affects the green fluorescent proteins in coral tissue and photosynthetic efficiency of its symbiotic zooxanthellae. I am grateful to be part of the Deheyn lab and it's wonderful community. I am a member of Scripps Education Association on SIO campus and enjoy surfing in my free time.

Sarah Wolfe : B.S. Student

Sarah Wolfe

B.S. Student

I am currently an undergraduate student at UC San Diego majoring in Environmental Systems: Environmental Chemistry and double minoring in Computer Science and Urban Studies. Within the Deheyn lab, I have been studying the toxicity of sunscreen products on brittlestars using bioluminescence as a proxy. As the amount of sunscreen and other UV-filter containing substances increases in the ocean, particularly in coastal waters near tourist beaches, the effects on complex organisms are largely unknown and potentially harmful.

Alysia Daines-Ravn : Undergraduate Student Intern

Alysia Daines-Ravn

Undergraduate Student Intern

As a Visiting Scholar in the Deheyn Lab my research encompasses a twofold approach to the ecotoxicology of Microfibers by addressing this contaminant through the use of bioluminescence as a proxy for toxicity, and methods of microfiber generation from various fabrics in order to understand the different variables that play into their release in the environment, and how this may negatively impact living organisms.

It is my hope that by standardizing these methods for understanding the scope of plastic pollution, will allow for researchers globally to tackle this problem. As well as communicate effectively with the public in order to create a sense of trust and community where we all take responsibility for our choices not only in plastic consumption but in how we treat our environment.

My background lies in Environmental Microbiology, Aero-Microbiology, and Environmental Management. And I am currently studying at the Erhvervsakademi Aarhus & Aarhus University in Denmark working on my senior thesis. And as a US citizen who has studied in the US and now studied and researched in Denmark, it has been my absolute pleasure to bring my global knowledge and experiences home to Scripps Institution of Oceanography where I plan to continue with my Ph.D.

Nikki Arm : Volunteer

Nikki Arm


My passion for both robotics and marine biology have inspired me to pursue a career exploring, researching, and protecting the deep sea. I am an undergraduate student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where I major in Mechanical Engineering and also work as a technician and safety supervisor in the department's machine shops.
I'm thrilled to be spending my summers in my home town of San Diego working in the Deheyn lab at SIO, where my current research is studying communication and biological function of different invertebrates from electromagnetic energy generated by these organisms. I am also testing the function of a novel analytical device called the B.U.M.P. (Benthic Underwater Microscopic PAM). I've previously worked on and continue to support efforts focusing on image analysis and algorithm development to help quantify microplastics/microfiber pollution in the oceans, and the development of robotic systems able to precisely function in high pressure environments like the deep sea. I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in Marine Biology at Scripps after finishing my B.S. at Cal Poly, and ultimately aim to design and build research submarines and underwater ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) to explore the deepest parts of the ocean.
Mara Casebeer : Volunteer

Mara Casebeer


I am a second year undergraduate student at UCSD majoring in Physics with a specialization in Biophysics. Right now I am working on a radiobio project on whether cells communicate with each other via radio frequencies. My research interests are focused on medically relevant problems and systems in biological physics which can be studied through computational modeling and experimental techniques. I'm excited to be a part of the Deheyn Lab and I'm looking forward to working on more projects in the future.

Fawn Liebengood : Volunteer

Fawn Liebengood


I am an aspiring marine conservationist specializing in marine debris prevention and removal and in the Deheyn lab I am studying different types of fabric's degradation rate in seawater. I am currently a Master student in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. My goal is to understand marine debris from a comprehensive perspective in order to drive behavioral change, empower communities, and make a difference in the fight against marine plastic pollution.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, captivated by marine life. When I began seeing the impact of marine debris, I felt compelled to step up and do something about the marine debris epidemic plaguing our oceans. I graduated with high honors from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa with a BA in Psychology and later earned an MBA in Nonprofit Management, and an Entrepreneurship Certificate from Chaminade University. I love to freedive, try new recipes, and watch science fiction movies in my spare time.

Aidan Lucas : Volunteer

Aidan Lucas


I am an engineering student studying nanotechnology and materials science with a minor in marine science at the University of California, San Diego. I have helped with light scattering measurements on hydrogel scaffolds, using scalar irradiance micro-sensing, and with collection of fluorescence and absorption spectra with a spectrophotometer. At the moment, I am working on a project involving the characterization of the pigment(s) responsible for the bright blue color of Traveler's Palm seed arils.

Noah Martin : Volunteer

Noah Martin


My research with the Deheyn Lab aims to uncover how octopuses and other cephalopods sense their 3 dimensional environment to modify skin texture for camouflage, with the goal of informing and improving bio-inspired sensing and camouflage technology.

I am currently an Undergraduate at UC Berkeley where I also study octopuses, focusing there on their behavior and personality. I hope to continue to pursue my passion for cephalopods with a PhD at SIO, with the ultimate goal of becoming one of the worlds experts on octopuses. In my free time I enjoy surfing, diving, and playing water polo.

Holly Nelson : Volunteer

Holly Nelson


I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of California, San Diego working towards a BS in Environmental Systems: Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, along with dual minors in Marine Sciences and History. I have been volunteering with the Deheyn Lab for over two years and have helped on projects focusing on ecotoxicology and the impacts of effluent medications on marine life, the affects on pH variation on bioluminescence of brittle stars, and the environmental implications of continued use of microplastics and fibers. I am looking forward to continuing my work at the lab and completing more projects in the future!

Christy Puzzanghera : Volunteer / former STARS undergraduate summer intern

Christy Puzzanghera

Volunteer / former STARS undergraduate summer intern

I am a second year undergraduate marine biology student at UC San Diego. My research in the Deheyn lab focuses on helping discover how the worm Chaetopterus sp. gets its bioluminescent properties. I am also very interested in biology research related to biomimicry, in which we can look at structures and processes in nature and use them through science to create better and more efficient technology for humans to use — I believe that Marine Biology is a good place to look for such types of nature to imitate. I am also interested in studying cephalopods, especially the way they are able to change color to help them camouflage. I'm a very passionate scientist, and am really excited to be a part of this lab.

Debra Quick-Jones : Volunteer

Debra Quick-Jones


I am by training a Doctor of Optometry, working at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, but my passion is for the ocean. I am fortunate to be volunteering in the Dehehn lab doing background research on the visual ecology of fishes. Future projects may concentrate on the vision of species that transition from aquatic to aerial life in the course of their development, such as the dragonfly. I am also interested in certain predator fish how their vision works with in response to their environment. Hyperspectral spectrometry is one technique used to measure retinal sensitivity.

Mariah Reilley : Volunteer

Mariah Reilley


I am an undergraduate at UC San Diego majoring in Environmental Systems(Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution) with a minor in marine science. I am interested in research regarding ecotoxicology and biomimicry. I have been involved in projects exploring the composition and structure of Chaetopterus tubes, nudibranchs, and microplastics. My current project focuses on microfiber production and degradation. I hope to develop a method in which microfibers can be generated to study how they interfere with light-producing organisms.

Anjali Phadnis : Volunteer

Anjali Phadnis


The Deheyn Lab is my first opportunity to explore and develop my growing interest for science. Currently, I am studying the Ice Plants and the purpose of the EBC's (Epidermal Bladder Cells) that cover the majority of the plant and how their potential ability to increase photosynthetic success can influence modern day technology.

I am currently a sophomore at Pacific Ridge School. I play for my school's varsity tennis team and am a part of a chamber ensemble at school, and youth orchestra where I play the French horn.

Michael Pinover : Volunteer

Michael Pinover


As a volunteer in the Deheyn Lab I have been working on developing a protocol to generate microfibers from various fabric types. I hope this research can be used to further our understanding of how microfibers enter into the environment and affect different organisms. My background is in dinoflagellate bioluminescence and the cell signaling pathways of Lingulodinium polyedra

Emily Tianshi : Volunteer

Emily Tianshi


Southern California has been severely drought-plagued for a decade. Harvesting water from air is an innovative way to alleviate the freshwater crisis. Torrey Pine trees are well known for their ability to harvest moisture. My research is focused on learning its surface structures and properties at a microscopic level and applying the findings to a water harvesting material or device.
I am an upcoming junior in high school and a quirky, curious scientist and engineer. I am a winner in multiple national science fairs, such as Intel ISEF, JSHS, and Broadcom MASTERS, and serve as the captain of my robotics team. Outside of the STEM world, I am a varsity golf player and known as "the pun master" among my friends.

Nan Woodman : Volunteer

Nan Woodman


I'm a Biomimicry Professional and Illustrator at the Design Table.

In the Deheyn lab I am researching biomimicry applications for local organisms, currently Mesembryanthemum crystalline, Pinus torreyanna, and pioneer species: Acmispon glaber. I have a special interest in plant communication and "Biomimicry Thinking" education.


Luis Zarate : Volunteer

Luis Zarate


I am a fourth year studying Marine Biology at UC San Diego. I am studying how a ghost shrimp is able to maintain its transparency. My research will focus on finding how to reverse the transparency of the ghost shrimp in order to further understand how this mechanism works. In my spare time I enjoy keeping and breeding dwarf shrimp and dwarf crayfish. I am thankful for being part of the Deheyn lab and excited to do research.