Sunyoung Wang ’16


Civil and Environmental Engineering

Project Title

The Unknown Unknowns: Discovering Phytoplankton Diversity in Their Genes

Presentation Link

View Sunyoung's Presentation

The aim of my research this summer was to characterize two phytoplankton species with respect to nitrogen uptake from ammonium and nitrate. Phytoplankton, the main photosynthesizers in the ocean, provide about half the oxygen in the atmosphere. Their physiology and response to environmental factors are usually studied in culture. But we now know that most of the important phytoplankton in the ocean are not represented in the culture collection nor in the genetic databases. Most laboratory data are derived from a few “lab rat” species, which are not among the most abundant or widespread species in the ocean. Worse yet, gene sequences obtained without cultivation indicate that most of the abundant types in the ocean have never been identified by any means. We began to fill this knowledge gap by obtaining new cultures of important strains for genetic and physiological experimentation, focusing on the eukaryotic algae that are particularly important in the utilization of nitrate, and thus in new production and biological carbon sequestration. I developed the skills necessary for research involving live cell cultures, including inoculation and cell transfer, and various methods used to detect ammonium. My first exposure to laboratory research, this internship helped me formulate my thesis topic.

Internship Year


Project Category

Climate Change and Environmental Science


Ward Lab, Geosciences Department, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ


Bess Ward, Professor, Geosciences