Twelve students from colleges and universities around the nation recently spent their summer participating in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates at the University of Delaware's Graduate College of Marine Studies (CMS). The summer internship program, now in its 14th year, is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
"The internship program introduces talented students from a variety of academic backgrounds to the marine sciences," said the program's director, oceanography professor Jonathan H. Sharp. "These students work directly with marine scientists, gaining hands-on experience and insight into the world of marine research. They also learn how to present their research findings in seminars. We look for students who excel in science and who are interested in the subject matter."
The interns arrived at the University's Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes on June 12. During the 10-week program, the students immersed themselves in graduate-level marine science research under the guidance of a CMS faculty mentor. The program concluded on August 11 and included an oral presentation by each student on the results of their research.
In addition to working on their research projects, the interns attended weekly seminars designed to introduce them to the breadth of marine research and participated in a research and training cruise aboard the University's 120-foot research vessel Cape Henlopen where they learned basic techniques for gathering data and samples at sea.
Rachel Forbes, of Clarksville, Tennessee, worked with marine biologist Craig Cary to develop a tool that will be able to measure low levels of the brown tide organism Aureococcus anophagefferens. This organism has become a major problem in some Mid-Atlantic estuaries because it can reproduce rapidly or "bloom," forming a dense mat on the surface of the water. Sunlight is blocked from the underlying grass beds, depleting the oxygen level in the water and eventually suffocating the fish that use these beds as nurseries.
"The summer internship has given me the opportunity to learn about marine biology," reported Forbes, a senior majoring in biology and classical studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "I am interested in a career in clinical research and will be applying to medical schools. I will be able to use what I learned this summer in programs like environmental toxicology, epidemiology, and even one related to ecology, evolution, and population biology," she added.
"The program has given me a greater understanding of the research process and the many aspects of marine science. I hope to use what I have learned when I begin work on my honors thesis," said Jesse Smith, Jr., of Pilesgrove, New Jersey. "I plan to go to graduate school, and this was a good opportunity to explore a new area."
Smith is a junior majoring in biology at the University of Delaware in Newark. With marine biologist John Boyer, he found that the pores in the cell walls of a brackish-water alga (Chara corallina) were larger than previously suggested. More importantly, he developed a method that will allow future researchers to determine how the pressure inside the algae cells will affect the pore size. The pore size is an important factor in the rate of plant growth.
Bonnie Chang, of Stratford, Connecticut, is a senior majoring in chemistry at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. With oceanographer William Ullman, Chang analyzed the chemical composition of groundwater seepage into the lower Delaware Bay. This analysis provided information on agricultural and septic contaminants that are discharged into the local estuaries from groundwater.
The Japanese shore crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus), a bio-invader from the western Pacific, was the focus of two projects. Sahrye Cohen, of Philadelphia, is a senior biology and environmental studies major at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Under the guidance of marine biologist Adam Marsh, she measured metabolic activity of the crab larvae. Differences in metabolic rates and energy use could help explain how these crab larvae survive in the estuarine environment and have a competitive advantage over native species.
Lizzie Nelson, of St. Joseph, Missouri, a senior majoring in biology at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, and Marissa A. Stratton, of Shoreline, Washington, a senior majoring in wildlife resource science at Washington State University in Pullman, worked with marine biologists Ana Dittel and Charles Epifanio to determine whether the crab is likely to invade marshy areas. When the crab larvae metamorphose to juveniles, they appear to "smell" chemical cues that are associated with different habitats and thus select where to settle. Results were somewhat unexpected in that it appears the rocky shoreline is the most attractive cue for the crabs.
Garrett Hageman, of Lake Oswego, Oregon, is a senior majoring in biological oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle. With oceanographer Jonathan Sharp, Hageman studied the relative carbon and nitrogen nutrition of phytoplankton. Both nitrate and ammonium nitrogen are available to and are used by marine and estuarine phytoplankton, but at different metabolic costs to the algae. A better understanding of the algal response is important in nutrient management.
Alex Nord, of Seattle, Washington, is a senior biology major at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Under the guidance of marine biologist Timothy Targett, he studied the ability of juvenile summer flounder to withstand low oxygen conditions. Because low oxygen conditions or "hypoxia" are common causes of fish kills in Delaware's Inland Bays, this information is important for understanding the tolerance and capabilities of fish.
Ashley M. King, of Burke, Virginia, is an earth and planetary science major at Johns Hopkins University. Working with oceanographer Chris Sommerfield, King studied the distribution of organisms that are found in the bottom sediments of the upper Delaware Bay. She found that these organisms, or benthic invertebrates, varied laterally across the bay, and that there may be a distinctive change between marine and freshwater organisms. Her study was in the middle region of the bay where suspended sediments are very high.
Laura Hohmann, of Westminster, California, is a senior chemistry major at the University of California at Los Angeles. Under the guidance of oceanographer George Luther, she studied the biology of bacterial mats in the salt marsh. Hohmann found a series of sulfur compounds naturally occurring along vertical profiles in the mats. The sulfur "species" follow chemical patterns that vary with the amount of vegetation and the chemistry of overlying waters.
"I enjoyed my opportunity to do field work this summer," said Hohmann. "It made scientific research much more dynamic and has been a great way to see what graduate school might be like."
Tarron Herring and Yusuf Al-Rahman from Lincoln University, in Oxford, Pennsylvania, also participated in the summer program under the sponsorship of the Department of Energy. Working with marine biologist David Kirchman, they investigated marine bacteria in Delaware coastal waters. Herring, a junior majoring in biology/pre-veterinary medicine from Brooklyn, New York, isolated a bacterium that produces a distinctive red pigment and explored whether it protects the bacterium from the sun or whether it binds toxic and essential trace metals. Al-Rahman, a junior majoring in biology/pre-medicine from Queens, New York, identified different bacteria in the Great Marsh and investigated how their growth rate was affected by organic matter enrichments.
The interns were selected from a national pool of science and engineering applicants and will receive college credit for their work.