Summertime is usually a time when college students close their books and take a break from studying. However, at the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies’ Hugh R. Sharp campus in Lewes, there’s a group of undergraduates still busy at school. These new faces around campus are undergraduate students from colleges and universities throughout the nation who are taking part in CMS’s annual 10-week summer intern program. The intern program, held every year since 1987, is largely made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Although the majority of the students are from states along the eastern seaboard including Delaware, there also are some from the west coast — Oregon and California — and even Nigeria, making this program a truly world-wide academic opportunity. The intern program is designed to introduce the students to the “wonders” of conducting research in the marine sciences.
“Every year, we make changes to improve both the overall experience of the interns and the program itself,” says Ana I. Dittel, a research scientist in marine biology–biochemistry and director of the program. “This year, the students attend workshops on topics from career paths in the marine sciences to writing scientific papers, which may be helpful during their internship as well as in the future.”
The students also discover what it is like to conduct “research-at-sea” as they participate in three days of marine research aboard UD’s 120-foot research vessel, Cape Henlopen. The main focus of the intern program, however, is to give the students the opportunity to design and complete an original research project, under the guidance of CMS faculty advisers. These projects are tailored to the interests of the students.
“I did a semester-in-residence at the marine college this fall and had a great experience, so I wanted to come back and work here this summer,” says Colleen Kernehan, a UD senior majoring in biology from Lewes, Delaware. “I will be graduating next spring, and I would like to get a master’s or a Ph.D. in marine biology and eventually teach.”
Under the guidance of marine biologist Charles Epifanio, Kernehan is investigating the abundance of green crabs, a non-native species, in the lower Delaware Bay. The green crab can alter the population of native invertebrates as well as the biodiversity of the area it invades. Her internship was supported in part by the Inland Bays Citizen Monitoring Program.
Epifanio also assisted Christina Chen Xia from Hockessin, Delaware, and Tristan Stani from Ann Arbor, Michigan, in their projects on the Asian shore crab — another invasive crab in Delaware. Xia, also a UD senior biology major, is studying the chemicals that the adult crabs secrete in an effort to understand where the crab larvae settle. She will use her results as a springboard for her senior thesis.
Stani, a senior at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, is studying the role of prey organisms in the growth, development, and survival of the crab larvae. His research is supported by St. John’s College.
Abigail Noble from Auburndale, Massachusetts, is a senior chemistry major at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. She is working with marine chemist George Luther to determine whether manganese and iron play a role in depleting hydrogen sulfide from the waters of Torquay Canal and Bald Eagle Creek.
Another project of local significance is that of Robert Bialas from Orangeburg, New York. Under the guidance of geochemist William Ullman, this senior Earth science major at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, is examining the levels of nutrients that are discharged across the estuarine beachface at Cape Henlopen and into Delaware Bay. These nutrients support a productive and diverse estuarine community at Cape Henlopen, including some unusual brackish water worms.
Holly Parkis of Marshfield, Massachusetts, is a junior biology major at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadfield, Massachusetts. Under the guidance of oceanographer Doug Miller, she is studying Sabellaria vulgaris, a marine worm that builds large tubular structures out of sand grains. These “reefs” are found almost exclusively in sections of the Delaware Bay and are an important habitat for many organisms.
Mary Piper of Jackson, Michigan, is a senior majoring in biochemistry and biotechnology at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Under the guidance of marine biochemist Adam Marsh, she is investigating how mud snails of the Delaware coast adapt to drastic temperature changes. Her work will provide clues that may guide research on the adaptations of complex organisms to environmental stresses.
Jennifer Sunderman is a senior from Cincinnati, Ohio, majoring in biology at the University of Dayton. Under the guidance of botanists John Gallagher and Denise Seliskar, she is investigating how environmental factors such as waterlogging and shade affect the growth of Phragmites australis. This information is important in developing effective management strategies to combat this invasive plant.
During her summer of research, Sunderman hopes “to learn more about the research process and have a better idea of what graduate school and working in a lab involves.”
Marianne Dietz of York, Pennsylvania, and Janine Fisler of Washington, Pennsylvania, are studying the fossilized shells of one-celled marine organisms, called foraminifera, under the guidance of paleoceanographer Katharina Billups. The shells, which are buried in sediments on the ocean floor, contain information that sheds light on the history of the ocean as well as past climate conditions.
Fisler is a senior at Penn State University is majoring in Earth science, and Dietz is a junior at UD with a double major in biology and geology. Dietz’s work is supported, in part, by CMS.
Elinor Keith of Athens, Georgia, is a geoscience major in her senior year at Princeton University. Under the guidance of oceanographer, Andreas Münchow, she is analyzing historical temperature and salinity data to identify steady currents in Smith Sound, located in the northern Atlantic between Greenland and Ellesmere Islands. These currents can impact ocean circulation patterns.
Clark Paterson of Newport, Oregon, is a senior with a double major in applied physics and mathematics at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. Under the guidance of oceanographer Fabrice Veron, he is investigating the effect of rain on the surface of the ocean. Interactions such as this — that occur between the ocean and atmosphere — can play an important role in global climate changes.
Lisa Komoroske of Buffalo, New York, is a senior majoring in ecology and environmental and organismal biology at Tulane University. Under the guidance of marine biologist Patrick Gaffney, she is studying the genetic variations of the Antarctic toothfish, a fishery that is coming under increased pressure.
In a related project, Emily Robinson of York, Pennsylvania, a senior majoring in biology and secondary education at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is studying the Patagonian toothfish. Better known as Chilean sea bass, this species is the focus of intensive illegal fishing, which has triggered restaurant boycotts in many U.S. cities. Her internship is sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Undergraduate Biological Science Education Program grant to Dickinson College.
“Lisa and Emily’s work not only will increase our understanding of population structure in these important southern ocean species, but also may provide forensic tools or genetic markers that can be used by enforcement agencies to identify the geographic origin of harvested fish,” says Gaffney.
Kerri Lynn Miller from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is a junior at UD majoring in biology with a minor in psychology. Under the guidance of marine biologist Timothy Targett, she is conducting experiments to determine the effect of low dissolved oxygen, or hypoxia, on the feeding and growth rates of young summer flounder. Her research is shedding light on the interaction of water temperature and hypoxia on nursery habitat quality for this economically and ecologically important fish. Her research is supported by UD’s Science and Engineering Scholars Program.
Also working under Targett is Danielle Tuzzolino, a senior biology major at UD, from Wanaque, New Jersey. She is studying the swimming avoidance behavior of young weakfish and summer flounder in response to declining levels of dissolved oxygen. Her work is providing information on whether these two species can detect low, but sublethal, dissolved oxygen levels and alter their swimming behavior to avoid this condition. Her research is being supported by the National Sea Grant College Program.
Undine Kipka from Weston, Connecticut, is a junior with a major in environmental engineering. Under the guidance of marine biochemist Stephen Dexter, she is studying marine biofilms. Biofilms are bacterial coatings that are found on most surfaces in the marine environment. Her work is supported, in part, by the Science and Engineering Scholars Program at UD.
Joan Goodman from Fountain Valley, California, is a senior biology major at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Working under marine biologists Craig Cary and Kathy Coyne, she is working to design a molecular technique that can detect low levels of the blue-green algae Anabaena planktonica, which is currently a major problem species in New Zealand. Early detection can give resource managers and the public time to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of a harmful algal bloom.
Kristen Sanderson, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is a senior biology major at Millersville University in Millersville, Pennsylvania. Under the guidance of marine biologist Mark Warner, she is investigating coral bleaching, which occurs when algae that live inside the coral are eliminated. Because corals can not survive without the algae, bleaching events are of great interest to scientists who study coral reefs.
Working under the guidance of marine biologist David Kirchman is Ogugua Anene-Maidoh from Nigeria. A junior majoring in biology and computer science at Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania, she is studying the effect of salinity on bacteria in coastal waters. Marine bacteria play a critical role in determining how much carbon dioxide is present in ocean waters, a compound necessary for marine plant life. Her internship is supported by a grant from the Department of Energy.
In talking about her summer experience, Anene-Maidoh says, “Everything is great! I love the people I work with, the other interns are fantastic, and I absolutely love my research. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my summer.”
The intern program ends on August 8th with the students giving an oral presentation of their research findings and writing up their results in the form of a scientific report.