Victoria Orphan, NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardee 2018

Victoria Orphan is the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, United States. A geobiologist, Orphan is studying the interaction of microorganisms found in deep-sea sediment with the environment, and has shown that some of these microbes work together in symbiosis to regulate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by consuming methane as their primary source of carbon. She is a pioneer of techniques that combine molecular biology and mass spectrometry into novel methods that enable the capture and analysis of individual microbial cells in their natural environments. These novel stable isotope applications use secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS and nanoSIMS) for measuring single cell activity and metabolic potential of uncultured microorganisms in environmental samples.


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Orphan’s work on microbially mediated anaerobic oxidation of methane in deep-sea sediment has won her the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (known as the “genius grant”). She is also the recipient of the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator Award, among many others.

The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award is supporting Orphan in her efforts to investigate the impact of marine viruses on the transformation of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in ocean surface waters and sediments, with the ultimate goal of incorporating the data from this unique stable isotope approach into trophic models for ocean ecosystems. As part of this effort, Orphan and her team are advancing the viral-nanoSIMS method for multi-isotope and stable isotope labeling and tracking of host-virus dynamics at the nanometer scale. Her NOMIS-supported project is entitled, Understanding Virus-Host Dynamics in Ocean Ecosystems.

Victoria Orphan at the University of Zurich in 2018

Victoria Orphan earned a BA in aquatic biology in 1994 and a PhD in ecology, evolution and marine biology in 2001 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She did her postdoctoral research as National Research Council Associate at the NASA Ames Research Center in California from 2002 to 2004. Orphan joined the faculty in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, United States in 2004 and was appointed the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at Caltech in 2016.

For more information about Victoria Orphan and her research, please see her faculty profile.