Mysteries of the Ocean


In a lab at MIT, Roman Stocker is spying on the lives of microbes. He and his colleagues try to visualize—and understand—microscopic processes in the ocean that happen at a scale so small we have never before been able to observe them clearly in action in the ocean environment.

Many of the most essential actions in the ocean happen at the scale of a micron, which is about 1,000 times smaller than a millimeter, or one one-millionth of a meter. To put this in perspective, a human hair is about 40-50 microns wide. Often they involve micron-sized bacteria, which are the smallest and most abundant life form on earth.

“One of the difficulties in studying marine microbes and communicating their importance,” Stocker says, “is the sheer, invisible scale at which they live and the fact that we have little or no intuition for their world.”

Now, thanks to a combination of highly sophisticated engineering approaches and new technologies, Stocker is discovering exactly what those microbes do… and how they do it. He has even managed to study what happens at scale of an individual virus—100 nanometers, or one-tenth the size of a micron. Stocker’s work is breaking new ground in our understanding of everything from the health of coral reefs to the consequences of oil spills, from how viruses affect ocean ecosystems to the way oceans store carbon.


“Working with the team at Kikim Media has been a true pleasure – the video they did for us brought to light our research in unique ways, and making it has been an inspiring experience in its own right!”

-Roman Stocker, Principal Investigator, Stocker Lab