Laura Hmelo was raised by a family of scientists in Nashville, Tenn. She earned a degree in chemistry in 2002 at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where she was active in environmental politics. In 2001, as a summer fellow at WHOI, she conducted paleoclimate research in a lab that she continued working in for two years after college. But she decided she preferred to study modern biogeochemical processes, focusing on bacterial quorum sensing and biofilms. That has led her to become—in addition to chemist and oceanographer—a microbiologist, too. While taking breaks from conversing with bacteria, she finds time to run, take photos, and dangle things in front of her cat.