Tom DeCarlo grew up in central New York, far from the ocean, and started his academic career following the footsteps of his family, on track for a business degree from the University of San Diego. That plan changed in an instant—the moment DeCarlo took his first breath under water from a scuba tank in the California kelp forests. The next day, he changed his undergraduate major to marine science. A year later, he dove on a coral reef for the first time and never looked back.

His favorite part of his research is thinking across enormously different spatial scales, from investigating the micro-sized environment around coral tissue where biomineralization occurs to studying how changes in climate across the entire Pacific Ocean affect coral reefs. DeCarlo’s thesis focuses on coral calcification on Dongsha Atoll in the South China Sea, a unique setting where the world’s largest internal waves—waves that occur within the body of the ocean—collide with the reef and alter the chemistry of seawater flowing onto the reef. His mentor for this article was Jayne Iafrate, former journalist at the Los Angeles Times and former director of annual and planned giving at WHOI.