A summer of science in the Boothbay region

Bigelow Labs hosts the next generation of ocean researchers
Posted:  Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 6:30pm

Ten weeks ago, 15 undergraduate students from all over the United States came to Bigelow Laboratory in East Boothbay for the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Four more students also came to complete internships through Colby College.

The students include Brianna Adams from Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, Daniel Seidman from Brown University, Allison Sharrar from University of Michigan, Alicia Hoeglund from Truman State University, Amy Webb from University of Southern Maine, Stephen Blanchard from Southern Maine Community College, Nicholas Marquis from Southern Maine Community College, Elizabeth Allen from The College of William and Mary, Sarah Erskine from Wheaton College, Jessica Mayhew from Southern Maine Community College, Alexa Williams from Colby College, Devin Page from Southern Maine Community College, Colton Funkhouser from Colby College, and David Findley from Haverford College.

Colby College interns were Sonia Vargas, Julia Middleton, Elizabeth Tonkin and Robert Campbell.

“We get students from all over,” said Dr. David Fields, a senior research scientist who also runs the REU program at Bigelow. “They come from Texas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania. In six years we've had three from Puerto Rico.”

“These students were chosen out of 250 applicants,” Fields said. “And when they are here, they are truly part of the team. Each student is paired up with a mentor that is interested in the same field of study, and they research the same way the scientists do.”

Mentors included Darlene Trew Crist, Peter Countway, Beth Orcutt, Nick Record, Christoph Aeppli, Nicole Poulton, David Fields, Paty Matrai, José Antonio Fernández-Robledo, Joaquín Martínez Martínez, Michael Lomas, Steve Archer, Jessica Labonte, and Nathan Paquin.

The students were required to identify a research question, develop a proposal to study the question, conduct research, and prepare an abstract and poster, then present their findings at a symposium.

Because of the importance of opening up this program to any student interested, the program is not only completely free (lodging, food, airfare to and from) but the students also receive $500 a week while they are at Bigelow.

“Not every student can take a large chunk of the summer off,” Fields said. “Some work to be able to afford college. This allows any interested student to participate without fear of losing 10 weeks they could have worked.”

On August 14, all the undergraduate students and one Colby College intern presented their findings at a special symposium held at the East Boothbay Bigelow campus. The research projects varied widely, just some of them were a study on grazers (eaters) of Synechococcus (a single celled organism that blooms in Boothbay waters); a study on the breakdown of DDT, the chlorinated pesticide, in deep sea oceans; studies on oyster pathogens; and studies on ocean acidification and its effect on various forms of simple life.

Frequently, the students said that once they answered their first question more questions arose, especially when their hypothesis (what they thought would happen) was disproven. Each student thanked his or her mentor and others who had helped with the projects.

“This was a great opportunity,” said Allison Sharrar from University of Michigan. “I'm planning on a career in oceanography and science, and was so excited when I was selected.”

Mentor Pete Countway said it was an “intense and enjoyable experience.”

“They come in as students, and get the equivalent of a semester of graduate student level research experience compressed into 10 weeks,” Countway said. “I am amazed at what they can accomplish. We help them push the boundaries of what they are capable of.”

“It's the most active my lab's been in four years,” mentor Nicole Poulton said. “I will miss them.”

The program is funded by the National Science Foundation and through several grants. Those interested in learning more about this or other Bigelow Laboratory programs should contact Darlene Trew Crist at dtcrist@bigelow.org.