Antarctic research

WWU faculty member studies invertebrates in Antarctica

Cecilia Brothers, the newest member of the Walla Walla University Department of Biological Sciences faculty, brings experience and firsthand research to her new post at WWU.

As a recent doctoral graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Brothers’ research focuses on “common marine invertebrates that you would find in a tidepool—sea stars and sea urchins—and how climate change affects their susceptibility to disease and ability to reproduce and survive.” This research took Brothers to Palmer Station, Antarctica, from February to June, 2018, where she worked as a collaborating researcher with scientists from UAB and the University of South Florida. Their goal was to “better understand the ecology of the seafloor off the western Antarctic Peninsula.” As Brothers explains, “The seafloor is not barren like you might imagine but supports a dense community of macroalgae and marine invertebrates, such as tiny crustaceans and gastropods, or snails.” In particular, Brothers and her colleagues studied the chemical defenses employed by many of these creatures to deter predators.

“Living and researching at Palmer Station was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” says Brothers. The station is located on Anvers Island just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, making it ideal for marine research. “It’s a small but extremely collaborative environment of only 40 to 45 people,” she says. “Everyone, both science and support staff, pitches in and works together to make world-class research happen.” Given the exotic location, work would often resemble play, as Brothers explains: “Every day was an adventure. Each morning that the weather permitted we headed out in Zodiacs to take the divers to their research sites. The opportunity to see penguins, whales, and icebergs in person was exciting every time!”

Brothers’ research at Palmer Station will have a direct impact on her students at WWU in many ways. “One of the initial laboratory projects I am bringing to WWU comes straight from Antarctica,” she says. “With undergraduate students, we will be investigating the bacteria associated with Antarctic sea stars. We want to learn more about the functions of these bacteria and how much the bacteria vary between sea star species.” Brothers also looks forward to utilizing her professional network developed at UAB and Palmer Station to the benefit of students of WWU.

Having earned both her bachelor of science and master of science degrees in biology from WWU, Brothers is no stranger to the Walla Walla Valley. “I’m looking forward to returning to the friendly WWU campus and all the outdoor opportunities in the Pacific Northwest,” she says. What she most looks forward to, though, is “setting up my laboratory and getting students started on research!”

For more information on the research being done at Palmer Station, visit, and to learn more about the WWU Department of Biological Sciences, visit


Posted August 1, 2018

Brothers, wearing a Walla Walla University sweater, poses by the Palmer Station sign
Palmer Station is on Anvers Island near the Antarctic Peninsula, an ideal location, according to Brothers, who says, “You can spot chinstrap penguins on your walk from the dorms to the labs and see your research site from the galley windows.”
Brothers assists divers in preparing for their antarctic dive.
Brothers helps colleagues from UAB prepare for one of their many Antarctic dives.
Brothers sports her WWU sweatshirt in front of a glacial lagoon.
Brothers looks forward to bringing her research to College Place and hopes that “... the scientific techniques I learned and the collaborators I met at Palmer Station will benefit the students at WWU.”
Brothers holds several starfish: one dark red, one bright yellow, and a third, longer-legged, is tan. The arctic sea is spread out behind her.
Brothers specializes in marine invertebrates, such as sea urchins and sea stars.