As another summer concludes, another group of undergraduate students have become alumni of the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies’ annual 10-week summer intern program at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes.
The intern program, held every year since 1987, is designed to introduce the students to the “wonders” of conducting research in the marine sciences. Under the guidance of faculty advisers from the College of Marine Studies, the students design and complete an original research project in a field that interests them.
Julie Anderson from DeKalb, Illinois, is a senior biology major at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. Under the guidance of marine biologist Nancy Targett, she conducted experiments on the unfertilized eggs of horseshoe crabs. Her work will assist in the development of an artificial bait that could be used as a substitute for adult female horseshoe crabs in the American eel and whelk fisheries.
“I really enjoyed getting to do actual research and work on an individual project,” says Anderson, whose biggest challenge in her project was determining the best way to extract unfertilized eggs from the female crabs. “I chose to do an internship because I was pretty sure I wanted to go to graduate school in marine studies, and this gave me the opportunity to actually try it to see if I liked it.”
Abigail Bradley from Lewes, Delaware, is a junior majoring in biology with a concentration in ecology and organismic biology at the University of Delaware in Newark. Under the guidance of oceanographer Doug Miller, Bradley monitored the colonization of the Asian shore crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus, on the south side of Roosevelt Inlet on the Delaware Bay, where riprap had recently been placed.
Her work will help determine whether artificial hardening of the shoreline as a process to combat erosion may inadvertently facilitate the spread of invasive species. Bradley will continue her research throughout her academic year as part of the Science and Engineering Scholars Program.
Another project of local significance is that of Derek Butcher from Danville, Pennsylvania, who is a senior chemistry major at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. Under the guidance of marine chemist George Luther, Butcher measured the concentration of sulfur and iron in water samples from Torquay Canal and Bald Eagle Creek in Delaware. His work will provide information needed to understand the processes that caused several fish kills in these waters in past summers.
“The most enjoyable part was the experience of working on a project that was not only interesting, but also addressed a widespread environmental issue,” says Butcher, who gave the program high ratings. “I was very impressed that although everyone in the lab had their own constant supply of work to do, no one was ever too busy to take the time to show me what I needed to know for my project and to help me to understand the other projects the group is involved in.”
Erin Colbert of Newark, Delaware, is a senior with a double major in biology and wildlife conservation at the University of Delaware in Newark. She worked with marine botanists John Gallagher and Denise Seliskar in the Halophyte Biotechnology Center in Lewes on a project involving Phragmites australis. Non-native varieties of this plant grow more aggressively than native varieties and can eliminate the diversity of plants in the areas where Phragmites is typically found.
Colbert examined the leaf pigmentation of both native and non-native varieties to see if there were any differences that enabled the non-native varieties to be so successful in invading wetland areas. “My experience was extremely beneficial,” she says. “I learned how a research project progresses from start to finish and had the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of the research — collecting, processing, and analyzing data as well as communicating the results.”
Elizabeth Dukes from North Charleston, South Carolina, is a senior at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, majoring in marine science and biology. Under the guidance of marine biologist Timothy Targett, she conducted experiments to determine changes in the swimming behavior of summer flounder under low-oxygen conditions. These conditions can occur during the summertime in shallow coastal waters that are used by fish as nursery grounds.
Lyndsay Field of Malvern, Pennsylvania, is a senior with a double major in biology and religion at the University of Rochester, in New York. Under the guidance of marine biologist Patrick Gaffney, she analyzed the DNA of the giant squid, Architeuthis dux, a sea creature that has never been seen alive in its native habitat. Her work will help determine if there are different species of this elusive animal.
“I have been fascinated by giant squid ever since I was in middle school,” says Field, who gave the intern experience a rating of two thumbs up. “It was really neat to be one of the few people adding to the knowledge bank for such a mysterious animal.”
Emily Harrison of Orland Park, Illinois, is a senior with a double major in physics and geology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Under the guidance of oceanographer Fabrice Veron, she investigated 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.
Erin King of North Branch, Minnesota, is a senior majoring in Earth science education at Minnesota State University in Mankato. She studied 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.
“I enjoyed learning about the theories behind my project, even though they could be somewhat challenging to ‘wrap my brain’ around,” says King. “I also enjoyed doing the ‘hands-on’ experiments that can help explain a question. The internship taught me many things about research in general and also about my own likes and dislikes.”
Amy O’Donnell of Unionville, Pennsylvania, is a senior majoring in bioinformatics at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. Under the guidance of marine biochemist Adam Marsh, she studied the development of Streblospio benedicti, a small mud worm that lives in the bottom sediments of salt marshes and is an important food item for juvenile fish in these estuarine nursery grounds.
Hillary Sletten of Beavercreek, Ohio, is a senior majoring in environmental geology and communication management at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. Under the guidance of marine geologist Christopher Sommerfield, she analyzed sediments that were obtained at the mouth of the Eel River — off the northern coast of California — to determine whether they contained a depositional structure known as a “turbidite.”
Turbidites are formed in the deep-sea environment when sediment cascades to the bottom of the ocean in a type of “underwater avalanche.” Sletten’s work will assist in determining whether the release of sediment into a river during a flood event can produce the powerful currents needed to form these structures.
The summer intern program, which is largely made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation, will be held again next year. More information about the program can be found at http://www.ocean.udel.edu/graduate/reu.html.