Malcolm McFarland

photo of Malcolm McFarland

Preserving Diversity in Oceanlife

By Lynn Laurenti

Toxic algal blooms in South Florida’s coastal and inland waters pose a serious threat to marine and plant life as well as the regional economy. One of the researchers on the forefront of the ongoing effort to detect new blooms and develop ways of combating them is Malcom McFarland, Ph.D., a research associate and lab manager at FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI).

McFarland, who holds a doctorate in biological oceanography from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, specializes in the study of marine phytoplankton populations in both salt water and freshwater environments. He is part of the HBOI team that is developing a revolutionary new underwater holographic microscope under a major multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The team, led by HBOI Director Jim Sullivan, Ph.D., has been awarded nearly $900,000 to perfect the invention, which allows scientists to get real-time, three-dimensional views of the millions of microscopic organisms and particles that populate bodies of water. In addition to providing views not accessible to the naked eye, the microscope reveals flow-field dynamics and permits non-intrusive observation of fish, shellfish and corals, including the ways in which they interact. This breakthrough technology is of special importance to research on algal blooms in the Indian River Lagoon, in which McFarland is taking part.

The microscope, which operates autonomously from a moored underwater position, continuously records images of the water column, which can then be analyzed for content.

McFarland has co-authored 15 journal articles and conference papers on algal blooms and related subjects.

Here is more information about him, in his own words:

I became a scientist because I wanted to help millions of people. I also have passion for creative and detective work. Developing drugs for diseases affecting people’s health really combines all these passions.

During my undergraduate studies Dr. Nwadiuto Esiobu (who is still a professor at FAU) taught a very interesting lab-based biotechnology course. I was already getting interested in science at that time, but she inspired me to pursue science full-time. I really appreciated her passion for teaching and encouraging students.

To provide treatments and better diagnostics for people suffering from diseases caused by dysregulated collagen turnover, such as osteoarthritis, cancer metastasis, cancers affecting the bone and others.

FAU delivers a great platform for research by providing excellent lab facilities, access to graduate and undergraduate students and facilitating intra-institutional and interdisciplinary research interactions. Over the last few years, we have seen more and more support for research, and it is exciting to be taking part in this research “revolution.” The presence of the Tech Runway Program, modeled after the world-class MIT program, gives hugely needed support and encouragement to take our research and inventions into real-world application.

This extraordinary program gives FAU researchers a big advantage over other institutions by providing mentorship, business training and an entrepreneurship hub. In addition, the proximity to Scripps Florida and Max Planck Institutes in Jupiter gives us a huge advantage to be able to collaborate with other world-class researchers, stimulating new ideas and research directions.

I currently manage Dr. Fields’ laboratory, which includes 11 members of all ages. Every year I mentor from two to seven students, ranging from high school age to the Ph.D. level.

It takes a lot of dedication to pursue career in research. However, a multitude of directions can be pursued after a student gains scientific knowledge and research experience.

I hope to improve people’s quality of life by bringing better treatments and diagnostics from the lab and into the marketplace. I also hope to inspire many young people to pursue careers in science, as well as follow their dreams and aspirations.