Mark R. Patterson
Ph.D., A.M., A.B. magna cum laude with highest honors in Biology, Harvard University
Area(s) of Expertise
Marine robotics, biomechanics, physiological ecology
I direct the Field Robotic Laboratory. We design and build free-swimming robots and surface vehicles. I have always loved marine ecology and biomechanics, because they are so interdisciplinary. Inspired by Ken Sebens and Steven Vogel, I like asking questions that require new technology to find the answer. Serious students of the history of science know that this is usually how science advances: new instruments lead to new insights that often spawn whole disciplines, rather than vice versa. For the last decade, our lab has been developing Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), free-swimming robots that survey the bottom and water column in ways superior to previous approaches like towed bodies or lowering an instrument over the side of a ship. I am convinced that AUVs are oceanography’s most important recent technological advance. The FRL has used AUVs to make new discoveries such as coherent structures of lowered oxygen over coral reefs, how krill swarms in the Antarctic appear on high frequency side scan sonar, and how to identify fishes from their side scan sonar images using neural network processing. This last area is poised to become a new tool for fisheries stock surveys. Current initiatives of the ASL include 1) developing a deep-sea autonomous vehicle swarm that can persist on-station for months, and return thousands of miles back to shore with physical samples, using a radical new approach to AUV design, 2) biologically-inspired autonomy whereby behaviors and structures by evolved organisms as diverse as salps, squids, sponges, fishes, marine mammals, and marine reptiles can increase the robust intelligence of AUVs, 3) new software for coordinating AUV swarms (CARNIVORE), and 4) developing methods to thwart the misuse of unmanned systems by terrorists.
The physical biology of invertebrates (sponges, cnidarians, squid), plants (macroalgae, sunflowers, seagrasses), and fishes is another area in which I am broadly interested. The allometry of metabolism is an area where I apply chemical engineering theory to lower aquatic invertebrates and algae. Contrary to the predictions of “universal scaling laws” that have appeared in the literature, e.g., the West, Brown, Enquist (WBE) theory, these taxa do not follow 3/4 power scaling of metabolic rate with body mass. Instead they exhibit a diversity of scaling exponents for which I have developed a predictive theory based on first principles from fluid transport and mass transfer. This “flow modulated allometry” model is now being tested in my laboratory and in the field using the NOAA underwater habitat Aquarius. Since 1984, I have used saturation underwater habitats to conduct research in situ on corals and their allies. Recent work using Aquarius has examined how reef corals respond to water motion during bleaching episodes by altering their photobiology and expression of stress proteins. Our lab has recently developed a predictive electrical network model of the gastrovascular system of corals of the two types of coral bauplan, perforate (where an extensive plumbing connects the polyps) and imperforate (where polyps are not connected directly). This model will help us understand how corals respond to environmental stress including that posed by global warming and ocean acidification.
Prof. Patterson is a joint appointment between the College of Science and the College of Engineering.
Marine Science Center
Some scientists have all the fun
Northeastern’s Mission 31 research team collected more than two years worth of data in just two weeks of the monthlong underwater research expedition. But even greater was all the fun they had.
An aquatic adventure resurfaces
It’s been 12 years since research technician Sara Williams first learned of Aquarius. Now she’s getting a chance to visit it herself during Mission 31, a monthlong research dive.
Wherefore art thou, dear zooplankton?
Graduate student Amanda Dwyer will lead a research project in conjunction with Mission 31, a monthlong underwater expedition led by Fabien Cousteau, in which she’ll examine the dynamics of zooplankton on coral reefs.
Mission 31 to splash down on June 1
Northeastern researchers will investigate the effects of global change on reef ecology as part of Mission 31, documentary filmmaker Fabien Cousteau’s 31-day underwater expedition off the coast of Florida.
Marine researcher sticks to her roots
As a teenager, Jennifer Elliott read about a conservation project to save the rare endemic birds of her homeland of Mauritius, a small island located in the Indian Ocean. “I was immediately intrigued by this project and wanted to meet the scientists in charge to learn more,” Elliott said. “I wanted to help.”
Researchers ready for historic aquatic ‘Mission’
Northeastern researchers are teaming up with Jacques Cousteau’s grandson to reignite the famous oceanographer’s singular vision.
Deep water data
Urban coastal sustainability becomes an ever more pressing concern as more than half of the world’s population flocks to its shores—the places where cities thrive.