Research group MPEA

Marine Phytoplankton Ecology and Applications

Meet the Researcher: Carolin Peter


Meet the Researcher: Introducing Carolin Peter

This April, Carolin Peter joins us from her home in Germany to begin her PhD research in MPEA. A self-described lover of cold weather, “the colder and darker it is, the better I feel!” Carolin looks forward to her research on the effects of climate change on various phytoplankton species and the community composition here at Lnu. With three published papers already under her belt, Carolin will head to Kalmar next month. Below, an interview with Carolin Peter.


What is your background as a marine biologist and researcher?

I did my bachelor’s thesis working with algae – harmful dinoflagellates off the coast of Sweden, actually! And with my Master’s agree I specialized in Marine Biology, and again my focus was plankton. I am really, really interested in plankton. Any chance I got, I chose plankton over something like fish, for example.

I did my master’s thesis on the interactions between Caribbean sponges and their microalgal symbionts. My supervisor was a chemist, and he had found out that the substance which is presumably produced by the sponge converts light from the UV range to the range that is usable for microalgae. We wondered about the purpose of this, because it’s a rather energy-consuming process, and we thought, “Well! They have so little light down there, it might be to help the symbiotic algae produce more oxygen or more sugars.”

So that’s what I focused on. I had 9 different kinds of microalgae, which I exposed to a chemically synthesized version of that sponge-derived substance and checked the oxygen evolution using optodes to see whether the oxygen evolution would increase, and whether that depends on the light conditions. We assumed that the more light you offer, the less important the additional photons provided by the sponge molecule become, so we assumed that the effect would be greatest at lowest light conditions and then decrease with light intensity.


Fascinating! And what will be your research focus when you come to Lnu?

I will be looking at the impact of climate change on phytoplankton communities. Specifically, higher light conditions and higher temperatures. What we know so far is that these changes should favor smaller plankton, but the larger plankton species sometimes are better at taking up nutrients and due to lower nutrient availability caused by a decrease in mixing as a result of climate change, it might also be that the larger ones are favored. So that will be my focus. I will analyze the LMO data series to check how the composition of the phytoplankton changed seasonally and over time, and I will also do mesocosms and laboratory experiments to determine, for example, the nutrient uptake in typical small-scale and large-scale phytoplankton species for comparison.


What do you most look forward to about living and working in Sweden?

Regarding working in Sweden, specifically, the colder climate. I had my childhood in southern parts of Germany, then went north to Bremen for university, and now I am slowly moving farther up north!


At this rate, you may end up in the Arctic!

I was in the Arctic, actually! I was taking a course on phytoplankton in the arctic, analysing  phytoplankton and zooplankton samples and compared the composition between areas that had been free of ice for some time and others that had been underneath the ice.


It seems your areas of interest really involve communities and interactions among the species.

Absolutely. I love the interactions between the species. While I feel it’s important to perform laboratory experiments where you focus only on one species to be able to really understand what they are capable of, I feel like the more realistic approach is to focus on the whole community and see how things are actually out in the world. That has at least been my perspective thus far.


Carolin, we are really excited for you to join our research group, and the LNU community. Welcome!


-Caroline Littlefield & Carolin Peter

Gender, Research and Leadership in the Time of COVID


Are your collaborations or working environments with men and women the same? If not, how do they differ?

What is the best description of being inclusive?

How do we become better at negotiating?

What actions can we take every day to improve gender equality, instead of just waiting for policy changes?

These questions, and many more, were discussed this past month, as our research group joined the 2020 all-hands meeting of AMRI (Aquatic Microbiome Research Initiative) AMR), the Sweden-wide open network of aquatic microbial ecology researchers, funded by SciLifeLab.  This year’s meeting was unlike most annual microbiology forums: The 2-day webinar was divided by theme – Microbial Ecology for Safe Water and the pervasive global issue facing research and science: Gender inequality.

This year, AMRI’s collection of invited speakers were women whose work in the field of microbial ecology has strongly impacted scientific discussions around safe water, brought new perspectives into the connection between microbial ecology and public health, and addressed social welfare through the lens of safe water as a global challenge.

Click here to view the AMRI Seminar: Microbial Ecology for Safe Water


We heard from  Hélene Norder Gothenburg University), Kaarina Sivonen (University of Helsinki), Catherine Paul and Karin Rengefors (Lund University), Agneta Andersson (Umeå University), and Maria Saline, who spoke about the Chalmer’s gender and research initiative, GENIE.

The day culminated in the keynote speaker of honor, Dr. Rita Colwell, American microbiologist of great renown, who spoke for one inspiring hour on Climate, Oceans, and Human Health: What Cholera can Teach Us About COVID-19. Dr. Colwell, whose work with microbiology in public health has faced the global challenge of safe water head on, in her career that has spanned decades. Her work in reducing cholera in Bangladeshi villages through simple filtration, to her work today, tracking COVID-19 in wastewater, has had enormous impact in public health. In addition to her research, Dr. Colwell was the first female director of the US National Science Foundation.

Despite her vital contributions to microbial science and public health, however, Dr. Colwell’s career was a hard-fought victory, overshadowed by decades of sexism and discrimination in the science and academic workplace. Such challenges are outlined in her new book, A Lab of One’s Own, a memoir and motivational journey.



“The day you became a scientist was the day you chose to be a leader.” – Catherine Legrand, panel on gender and research in the time of COVID, AMRI seminar 2020

Lauri Robbins Ericsson, Emotional Intelligence, Gender Intelligence and Research in the time of COVID

The second day of the AMRI seminar focused solely on gender and research, welcoming Lauri Robbins Ericsson, speaker on gender intelligence issues, and a panel of four women: Karin Rengefors, Catherine Paul, Maria Saline, and Catherine Legrand. Lauri’s objective-based presentation, Emotional Intelligence, Gender Intelligence and Research in the time of COVID, highlighted the challenges posed by gender equality in academia and science, stressed the importance of emotional intelligence and leadership, and how gender barriers are broken down in emotional intelligence analysis. (See below to view Lauri’s entire talk). Lauri then moderated the panel of scientists, who discussed issues of gender bias in the field, leadership, inclusivity, knowledge and challenges.

This seminar brought to light the issues surrounding gender inequality in the field of research and academia, and brought forward inspiring discussions from experienced scientists in the field, as well as young researchers just starting on their path. We will continue to shed light on this essential subject, paying attention to programs such as GENIE, which promotes gender balance within the Chalmers University faculty.

What can you do to promote gender equality? What brave steps can you take in your own life and work? How can you speak up for those who might be held back?


–Caroline Littlefield