Brandon Russell, Ph.D.


My research involves the use of optical techniques in a variety of fields including satellite and airborne calibration/validation, bioluminescence, remote sensing, camouflage, benthic mapping, coral reef studies, and the classification of floating vegetative wrack. I'm most interested in leveraging new technologies, particularly hyperspectral imagers and autonomous sampling, for biological, ecological, and remote sensing research questions.

Under the mentorship of Professor Heidi Dierssen, I defended my PhD in 2016, the subject of which was the application of hyperspectral imaging to animal camouflage and coral bleaching. I then completed a post-doctoral fellowship on NASA's COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) mission, measuring water column optics in support of coral reef mapping in the Pacific. Afterwards I joined the lab of Dr. Mike Twardowski at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, studying the distribution of bioluminescent organisms and associated water column optical parameters in the mesopelagic zone. Currently, I am located at Labsphere, Inc. In my role as Optical Systems Application Engineer, I focus on defining and scoping solutions for light measurement and ground support equipment. This includes a variety of private and public remote sensing projects for clients including NASA, the US Army, Raytheon, and multiple universities.

The use of optical tools has allowed me to work with a diverse range of marine and remote sensing researchers, and I'm always interested in new collaborations. I've been fortunate to participate in studies including bivalve feeding, light source characterization, nano-particle toxicity, sensor-platform design, seagrass export dynamics and remote sensing, coral reef ecology, autonomous in-water benthic mapping platforms, remote sensing of floating vegetation, arctic bio-optics, and animal camouflage. Through Labsphere, I am helping to develop a network of automated calibration stations for airborne and spaceborne platforms.

Sargassum Camouflage

Floating mats of Sargassum seaweed are home to some truly remarkable hidden animals. My doctoral work used computer models to look beyond human vision, in order to study how these organisms can either avoid or be seen by different types of predators.

Benthic Spectral Reflectance

My graduate adviser Dr. Heidi Dierssen and I use a custom-built diving spectrometer to measure the unique optical signatures of different objects on the seafloor.

Biological Response to the Polarized Underwater Lightfield

While humans can see the intensity (brightness) and spectral distribution (color) of light, we’re completely oblivious to its orientation, or “polarization.” In the open ocean, however, some animals are sensitive to polarization and this information can be used to detect prey. We discovered that certain open-ocean fish have evolved a type of polarization camouflage in order to hide in plain view.

Coral Fluorescence

Reef building corals are actually a symbiosis of photosynthetic algae and colonial host animal. The color of a coral is determined by the pigments of both. Some corals have fluorescent pigments which are visible under UV or blue light. UCONN diving safety officer Jeff Godfrey and I took this video using special lights and video filters on a night dive in Kona Bay, Hawaii.

Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory

My colleagues and I traveled around the Pacific using NASA technology to map coral reef ecosystems, and study how these ecologically and economically important systems function on a regional and global scale.


Russell, BJ; Dierssen, HM; Hovhberg, EJ. 2019. Water Column Optical Properties of Pacific Coral Reefs Across Geomorphic Zones and in Comparison to Offshore Waters. Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 1757; doi:10.3390/rs11151757

Russell, BJ; Dierssen, HM. 2018. Color change in the Sargassum Crab, Portunus sayi: Response to diel illumination cycle and background albedo. Mar. Biol. 165:28. doi: 10.1007/s00227-018-3287-1

Hedley, J; Russell, BJ; Randolph, K; Pérez-Castro, MA; Vásquez-Elizondo, RM; Enríquez, S; Dierssen, HM. 2017. Remote sensing of seagrass leaf area index and species: The capability of a model inversion method assessed by sensitivity analysis and hyperspectral data of Florida Bay. Front. Mar. Sci. 4, doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00362

Ackleson, SG; Smith, JP; Rodriguez, WJ; Russell, BJ. 2017. Autonomous Coral Reef Survey in Support of Remote Sensing. Front. Mar. Sci. 4, doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00325

Haynes, VN; Ward, JE; Russell, BJ; Agrios, AG. 2017. Photocatalytic effects of titanium dioxide nanoparticles on aquatic organisms - current knowledge and suggestions for future research. Aquatic Toxicol, 185, 138-148. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2017.02.012.

Russell, BJ; Dierssen, HM; LaJeunesse, TC; Hoadley, KE; Warner, ME; Kemp, DW; Bateman, TG. 2016. Spectral Reflectance of Palauan Reef-Building Coral with Different Symbionts in Response to Elevated Temperature. Remote Sens. 8, 164; doi:10.3390/rs8030164

Hedley, J; Russell, BJ; Randolph, K.; & Dierssen, HM. 2016. A physics-based method for the remote sensing of seagrasses. Remote Sens Environ, 174, 134-147. doi:10.1016/j.rse.2015.12.001

Brady, PC; Gilerson, AA; Kattawar, GW; Sullivan, JM; Twardowski, MS; Dierssen, HM; Gao, M; Travis, K; Etheredge, RI; Tonizzo, A; Ibrahim, A; Carrizo, C; Gu, Y; Russell, BJ; Mislinski, K; Zhao, S; Cummings, ME. 2015. Open-ocean fish reveal an omnidirectional solution to camouflage in polarized environments. Science 350, 965–969

Russell, BJ; Dierssen, HM. 2015. Use of hyperspectral imagery to assess cryptic color matching in Sargassum associated crabs. PLOS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136260

Dierssen, HM; Chlus, A; Russell, BJ. 2015. Hyperspectral discrimination of floating mats of seagrass wrack and the macroalgae Sargassum in coastal waters of Greater Florida Bay using airborne remote sensing. Remote Sens Environ doi:10.1016/j.rse.2015.01.027

Gilerson, AA; Stepinski, J; Ibrahim,AI; Tonizzo, A; You,Y; Sullivan, JM; Twardowski, MS; Dierssen, HM; Russell, BJ; Cummings, ME; Brady, P; Ahmed, SA; Kattawar, GW. 2013. Benthic effects on the polarization of light in shallow waters. Applied Optics 52: 8685 – 8700

In the News