Undergraduate Research Program

Cristian Swift

Major: Oceanography
Mentor: Gabrielle Rocap – School of Oceanography

Contact: cjswift@uw.edu

Current research project: The Hybrid Cluster Protein’s Role in Low-Light Prochlorococcus Ecotype Located in the Eastern Tropical North Pacific


Cristian is a freshman in Oceanography at the University of Washington. Having started research at the Ocean Research College Academy (ORCA) in Everett, Washington, he gained a love for oceanography and is exploring the many disciplines within. Here at the University of Washington, he is working with Gabrielle Rocap at the Rocap lab of biological oceanography, investigating proteins of marine bacteria. He is also preparing for a federal internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in summer 2021, preparing him to present at national conferences. Cristian is especially interested in eliminating the racial disparities found in oceanography, participating in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee in the School of Oceanography.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
I am focusing specifically on the Hybrid Cluster Protein (HCP) found in Prochlorococcus that inhabits oxygen deficient zones because of the uniqueness of the protein for the ecotype and the importance of this phytoplankton. Prochlorococcus are the most numerically abundant photosynthesizer on the planet; the low light ecotype in question has an ability to produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, and can destroy the ozone layer, likely due to its HCP. It has also been shown that marine oxygen deficient zones have been increasing in size, causing concern because this would lead to increased production of potent greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide. Investigating this protein in Prochlorococcus could lead to a better understanding of marine greenhouse emissions.


When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I started undergraduate research at the Ocean Research College Academy (ORCA) sophomore year of high school within the running start program. There I did three group research projects investigating tides, heavy metals, and salinity. In the summer of 2019, I had my first internship in a Nation Science Foundation-sponsored program called GEOPATHS, where I conducted my first independent research project. I focused on marine heatwaves over a ten year period, learning programs such as R studio and excel along the way. From there, I have continued to chase new opportunities in oceanographic research leading me to UW.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Start slow. It can all catch up with you quickly with school, research, other academic activities, social life, and a job (if applicable) can be overwhelming if all done at once or too sudden. Start reaching out to people in lab positions, like the URLs, and network to get you where you want to be. Reaching out is the first step; make sure to maintain and grow connections, and you’ll be doing original research in no time.