Attending college, Dr. Melanie Holland planned on being a biochemist but found herself frustrated with the amount of her time spent in the laboratory. Making the decision to spend her junior year on a Sea Education Association Sea Semester opened her eyes to the possibility of doing science on a boat–and she changed her plan and became an oceanographer.
After obtaining her BS degree in biology from MIT she went on to the University of Washington–Seattle where she trained in oceanography. While she still spent time in the lab, she was able to see the work she was doing in the larger context of the world. Her doctoral research focused on ecology, physiology and phylogeny of subseafloor thermophiles from mid-ocean ridge environments. Thermophiles are organisms that thrive at relativity high temperatures between 106 and 252 °F and in Holland’s case exist around hydrothermal vents that well up from beneath the ocean floor. To collect these microbes for study she would control ALVIN, a research submarine that can withstand the environment around the vents. Holland takes careful notes on the location, temperature, and chemistry around the area she is sampling in order to recreate these conditions in the lab and then takes a small sample of the hydrothermal fluid.
Bringing the sample back to her laboratory Holland has to carefully replicate the environment the microbe called home in order to grow more microbes and help answer big questions about the ecosystems in which they live and thrive. She looks at how their environment affects them and how they in turn affect their environment and how they can interact with other organism around the vents.
After completing her PhD in 2000 Holland spent two years at Washington University at St. Louis researching geochemical modeling of microbial energetics followed up by three years at Arizona State University focused on biogeochemistry of chemosynthetic microbial ecosystems. Since 2005 she has worked at Geotek Limited, a company that specializes in high-resolution, non-destructive analysis of geological cores. Holland works as a Biogeochemical Consultant focused on the geochemistry and microbiology of sediments, particularly gas hydrate-bearing sediments.
Written by Angela Goad