Cara Ocobock

Assistant Professor

Cara Mountain Pic

B.S. University of Michigan (2007)
PhD Washington University, St. Louis (2014)

Dr. Ocobock is the Director of the Human Energetics Laboratory at Notre Dame. Her research program integrates human biology and anthropology, with a focus on the interaction between anatomy, physiology, evolution, and the environment. She explores the physiological and behavioral mechanisms necessary to cope with and adapt to extreme climate and physical activity. Ocobock works in northern Finland, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Lapland and University of Oulu. This project focuses on reindeer herders, a highly active cold climate population. Her research assesses their life ways, life history patterns, cold climate adaptations, and addresses potential health disparities. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation and the American-Scandinavian Foundation. One aspect of this work focuses on brown adipose tissue, a type of fat that burns only to keep an individual warm when cold and leads to a known increase in metabolic rate – the number of calories you burn each day. Brown fat has important implications for not only understanding cold adaptations now and throughout human evolution, but also for metabolic health and the treatment of obesity.

Ocobock is continuing her work in Finland while also starting new projects in Samoa and American Samoa with her graduate student and numerous collaborators at Yale and University of North Carolina Wilmington to assess brown fat presence and activity in these populations.

Ocobock is also working on a project with collaborators at the University of Missouri and the University of North Texas to assess the physiological significance of anatomical indicators of cold adaptations. This work will help elucidate the potential advantages past cold climate populations such as Neanderthals may have had.

Finally, Ocobock is an avid powerlifter and loves to bring anthropology to sport. She has worked with hockey players at the collegiate and semi-professional level as well as collegiate track and field athletes. Her future work will assess the impact of social networks on powerlifting performance – bridging the cultural and biological domains within what is essentially a solitary sport.

Ocobock’s research is at the intersection of metabolic physiology, evolution, culture, and behavior. Her work has appeared in the American Journal of Human Biology, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, EvoS, Science Advances, and Anthropology News.

Curriculum Vitae

Professional Website


256 Corbett Family Hall