Emily is a PhD candidate in the Dekas Lab at Stanford University. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Biochemistry & Cell Biology (minor: Marine Sciences) from UC San Diego in 2020 where she worked to develop a new technique for isolating previously unculturable marine microbes that could be used in pharmaceutical development (Moore Lab, Scripps Institution of Oceanography). Now her research is based on culture-independent techniques, including stable isotope probing, gene sequencing, and single-cell analyses like nanoSIMS, microscopy, and flow cytometry. Emily has completed 5 research cruises and 2 land-based field expeditions since 2018. Two of these field projects included snorkeling with orcas above the Arctic circle to record their bioacoustic and behavioral patterns and sampling Mars-analogue acidic brine lakes in Western Australia to look for signs of extreme microbial life (Oceans Across Space and Time, OAST).

Emily enjoys teaching and mentoring: At UC San Diego she worked as a STEAM instructor for the Sally Ride Science Academy's Library NExT program where she designed free science workshops for elementary and middle school students. Since 2021 she has mentored three Stanford undergraduates through the Women in STEM program at the Women's Community Center and has tutored 5+ students in a range of subjects from math to organic chemistry. Emily shares her research experiences annually with high schoolers around the country as a volunteer scientist for Skype a Scientist.

Honors & Awards

  • Scholarship Recipient, Historical Diving Society (May 2023)
  • Outstanding Poster Award, Northern California Geobiology Symposium (April 2023)
  • Presenter, Ancient and Future Brines Conference (May 2023)
  • Presenter, Astrobiology Graduate Conference (May 2023)
  • Presenter, Ocean Sciences Meeting (February 2022)
  • Revelle College Commencement Speaker, UC San Diego (June 2020)
  • UC San Diego Alumni Association Outstanding Senior Award, UC San Diego (June 2020)
  • Oceanids Outstanding Service Award, UC San Diego (June 2019)
  • Town and Gown Scholar, UC San Diego (May 2019)
  • Eureka! Undergraduate Research Scholar, UC San Diego (June 2019)
  • Triton Experiential Learning Scholar, UC San Diego (2018, 2018, 2019)
  • Provost Academic Honors, Revelle College, UC San Diego (2017, 2018, 2019)
  • SMUD Powering Futures Scholarship, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (May 2018)
  • Ernest C. Mort Leadership Excellence Award, UC San Diego (June 2017)

Professional Affiliations and Activities

  • Member, Explorers Club (2021 - Present)
  • Member, Society for Women in Marine Science (2020 - Present)
  • Scientist, Skype a Scientist (2020 - Present)
  • Early Career Committee, NASA Network for Life Detection (NfoLD) (2020 - Present)
  • Volunteer, Walter Munk Foundation (2018 - 2019)

Education & Certifications

  • Minor, UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Marine Sciences (2020)
  • BS, UC San Diego, Biochemistry & Cell Biology (2020)

Service, Volunteer and Community Work

  • SSTEP Mentor, Stanford University (10/23/2023 - 11/3/2023)

    The Stanford Summit Tahoma Expedition Program (SSTEP) is a shadowing program created by Kyra Yap, with the support of the Chemical Engineering DEI committee. Within the SSTEP program, high school students from Summit Tahoma, a public charter school in southeast San Jose, shadow Stanford researchers in real-world laboratory settings. The program aims to provide underrepresented students with an opportunity to access and explore careers in STEM.


    Stanford, CA

  • WCC STEM Program Mentor, Stanford University (October 2021 - June 2023)

    A program where Stanford undergraduates embarking on graduate school applications and exploring post-grad opportunities are connected with graduate students who can provide support and demystify the graduate school application and selection process.


    Stanford, CA

Personal Interests

Scuba diving, Backpacking, Rock Climbing, Mountaineering

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

Did life exist on Mars? My research addresses the salinity limits of microbial life in extreme environments on Earth to determine how and where to look for life on other planets. As a member of the NASA-funded Oceans Across Space and Time Team (OAST), I am targeting three hypersaline brine ecosystems: solar salterns (San Diego, CA), acidic brines (Western Australia), and deep hypersaline anoxic basins (Gulf of Mexico). By analyzing how microbial metabolism changes with salinity and additional environmental extremes (low pH, high pressure, etc.) we can constrain how the environment impacts global biogeochemical cycling on Earth and beyond.

Lab Affiliations

Work Experience

  • Laboratory Technician, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (June 2020 - August 2020)


    La Jolla, California

  • STEAM Instructor, Sally Ride Science (March 2019 - June 2020)


    La Jolla, California

All Publications

  • Single-cell analysis in hypersaline brines predicts a water-activity limit of microbial anabolic activity. Science advances Paris, E. R., Arandia-Gorostidi, N., Klempay, B., Bowman, J. S., Pontefract, A., Elbon, C. E., Glass, J. B., Ingall, E. D., Doran, P. T., Som, S. M., Schmidt, B. E., Dekas, A. E. 2023; 9 (51): eadj3594


    Hypersaline brines provide excellent opportunities to study extreme microbial life. Here, we investigated anabolic activity in nearly 6000 individual cells from solar saltern sites with water activities (aw) ranging from 0.982 to 0.409 (seawater to extreme brine). Average anabolic activity decreased exponentially with aw, with nuanced trends evident at the single-cell level: The proportion of active cells remained high (>50%) even after NaCl saturation, and subsets of cells spiked in activity as aw decreased. Intracommunity heterogeneity in activity increased as seawater transitioned to brine, suggesting increased phenotypic heterogeneity with increased physiological stress. No microbial activity was detected in the 0.409-aw brine (an MgCl2-dominated site) despite the presence of cell-like structures. Extrapolating our data, we predict an aw limit for detectable anabolic activity of 0.540, which is beyond the currently accepted limit of life based on cell division. This work demonstrates the utility of single-cell, metabolism-based techniques for detecting active life and expands the potential habitable space on Earth and beyond.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/sciadv.adj3594

    View details for PubMedID 38134283

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10745694

  • Autochthonous carbon loading of macroalgae stimulates benthic biological nitrogen fixation rates in shallow coastal marine sediments Frontiers in Microbiology Raut, Y., Barr, C. R., Paris, E. R., Kapili, B. J., Dekas, A. E., Capone, D. G. 2024; 14