Dr. Sönke Johnsen
301 Biological Sciences Bldg
Durham, NC 27708
Comparative physiology; focusing on optical
adaptations to a pelagic existence, including topics such
as transparency, cryptic coloration, bioluminescence, ultraviolet
protection and vision, and orientation and navigation.
University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill: Ph.D., Biology, 1996, 1990-1996
Dr. William M. Kier, advisor.
B.A. with Distinction (highest honor), Mathematics, 1988,
Phi Beta Kappa and National
Professor, Biology Department, Duke University.
Research Associate, Smithsonian Museum of Natural
Associate Professor, Biology Department, Duke
Assistant Professor, Biology Department, Duke
Adjunct Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 2002-2005
Adjunct Professor, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University. 2002-
Assistant Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Postdoctoral Scholar, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
Dr. Laurence P. Madin, advisor.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution,
Dr. Edith A. Widder, advisor.
Lecturer, Department of Biology, University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill. 1996-1997
National Science Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Department
of Biology, 1991-1994
University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill.
Recent Research Grants:
“Bioluminescence in the deep-sea benthos
NOAA Ocean Exploration, $478,914
“Long-range geomagnetic navigation in sea turtles: An
interdisciplinary approach to localizing magnetite-based biological
Air Force Office of Scientific Research $2,462,029
“Dynamic Camouflage in Benthic and Pelagic
Cephalopods: An interdisciplinary approach to crypsis based
on color, reflection, and bioluminescence” 2009-2013
Office of Naval Research $7,341,938
“Bioluminescence in the Deep-sea Benthos”
NOAA Ocean Exploration, $424,807
“Midwater animal models: Optical measurement
of metabolic transitions in transparent pelagic biota”
National Science Foundation, ~$650,000
“Deep Down Under: Exploration of Australia’s
deep waters” 2007-2009
ARC and private support (~$500,000 USD and 3 years of ship
and submersible time)
“Operation Deep-Scope 2007: Characterization
of cliff ecosystems using
new technologies” 2007-2008
NOAA Ocean Exploration, $352,140
"Selective invisibility based on the differing
of sea turtles and billfish under low light conditions" 2005-2006
"Operation Deep-Scope 2005" 2005-2006
NOAA Ocean Exploration, $328,905
"Transparency: Ultrastructural and biochemical
modification in muscular and ocular tissues" 2005-2008
National Science Foundation $409,999
"Mathematical model of the visual abilities of sea turtles and pelagic fishes" 2003-2004
"Characterization of deep-sea communities using advanced optical techniques" 2004
NOAA Ocean Exploration, $392,000
"Integrative and Comparative Vision Research" 2003
National Science Foundation, $6,000.
"Perception of bioluminescent signals underwater" 2002-2003
Office of Naval Research, $12,004.
"Biologically Inspired Underwater Navigation Based on Geomagnetism" 2002-2003
Office of Naval Research, $99,956.
"Development of a Large Area Plankton Imaging System” 2002-2004
National Science Foundation, $499,820.
"Development of a Portable Underwater Hyperspectral Radiometer”, 2000-2002
Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Technology Foundation, $30,700.
"Eutrophication in Waquoit Bay: Effects on Visual Predation”, 2000-2001
Rinehart Coastal Research Center, $31,792.
Sönke Johnsen, Justin Marshall and
Mark Hooper bluewater diving in the Bahamas.
to download CV
self-interview in Current Biology
All my life, I never wanted to be a biologist.
After choosing a college solely on the fact that a family
friend's hardware store was in the same town, I began a major
in Physics. An
Algebra professor who danced and told funny stories about
pathological geniuses convinced me to change my major to Mathematics.
I added a major in art, mostly abortive because I refused
to take art history, and left college disenchanted with education.
I then worked as a daycare provider and kindergarten
teacher for Quakers, a freelance carpenter, and a dance teacher
for three year olds. It was during this last job that I met
Sarah, the daughter of Scott Gilbert, who wrote the developmental
biology textbook used by most colleges. After hitch-hiking
across the Pacific Northwest, I decided that I needed more
education. A friend and I went through the alphabet. Deciding
that a career in art was likely to be a raw deal, settled
on Biology and met with Scott Gilbert and Rachel Merz. Rachel
suggested good places to go to graduate school and Scott got
me a job with a friend of his, Stuart Kauffman.
Luckily, the job with Stu required
no knowledge of biology and several graduate schools admitted
me despite the same lack. I went to UNC,
and after a year of reading and drawing pictures of bugs on
the lawn, I decided that biology was "okay". With
little knowledge but high enthusiasm, I chose a high-risk,
low-benefit project that I left behind the moment I handed
in my thesis. My advisor, Bill
Kier, pointed me to oceanic zooplankton, we both thought
about transparency, and I applied to two oceanographic institutions,
both of which turned me down. I cleaned fish tanks for a year,
applied again, and both then accepted me. I went on my first
research cruise to the Gulf of Maine with Edie
Widder. It was stormy, the ship smelled, and I was seasick.
It was the best time of my life. Nineteen years later, I have
yet to look back.