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FAU Harbor Branch Scientists to use Underwater Holographic Microscope to Research Indian River Lagoon

The research involves the development and testing of new technology that will allow them to view what the naked eye is unable to see

by Florida Atlantic University
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Holographic MicroscopeVarious microscopic zooplankton and phytoplankton that were imaged in the ocean using FAU Harbor Branch's first generation holographic microscope.Image Courtesy of: Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University


A group of scientists with FAU Harbor Branch are creating technology that will allow them to view – in 3-D – the millions of microscopic creatures and particles that populate bodies of water, including the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), thanks to funding provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

FAU Harbor Branch research professor Jim Sullivan, Ph.D., is principal investigator on the project and was recently awarded a multi-year grant worth nearly $900,000 from the NSF to pursue work on an underwater holographic imaging system for long term studies of marine particles, both in the ocean and in the IRL.

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The research involves the development and testing of new technology that will allow them to view what the naked eye is unable to see, and could ultimately help local scientists better understand such topics as harmful algal blooms, spawning and recruitment of fish/coral/shellfish, biophysical interactions, sediment dynamics and a host of other issues relevant to IRL research.

“The successful development of this next generation holographic microscope will provide an unprecedented view of particle dynamics in the IRL and ocean,” said Sullivan. “This will allow us direct 3-D visualization of plankton/particles in their natural, undisturbed state, while simultaneously measuring the flow fields that surround, transport and affect them.”

The myriad of particles that populate the world’s oceans and bodies of water play a major role in a variety of scientific fields, including plankton dynamics, sediment transport, ecological studies of marine food webs and remote sensing/ocean optics. This research builds on Sullivan’s research groups’ past success in developing a prototype holographic microscope that was used to document particle/phytoplankton orientation in the ocean, a phenomenon that is critical to both ocean optics and phytoplankton ecology.

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Sullivan is conducting the work, which is being funded by NSF grant award number 1634053, with FAU Harbor Branch colleagues Fraser Dalgleish, Ph.D., Adi Nayak, Ph.D., Lysel Garavelli, Ph.D. and Malcolm McFarland, Ph.D.

For more information, contact Carin Smith at 772-242-2230 or
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About Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute: 
Founded in 1971, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University is a research community of marine scientists, engineers, educators and other professionals focused on Ocean Science for a Better World. The institute drives innovation in ocean engineering, at-sea operations, drug discovery and biotechnology from the oceans, coastal ecology and conservation, marine mammal research and conservation, aquaculture, ocean observing systems and marine education. For more information, visit

About Florida Atlantic University: 
Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit