Ten students, including a sophomore from the College of Charleston, recently completed the Ft. Johnson Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program hosted by the College’s Grice Marine Lab. This program, one of 30 funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) across the country that focuses on ocean and marine sciences, provides real-world field and laboratory experiences for some of the top science-oriented students in the country.
This competitive internship, a 10-week immersion in the life of a marine scientist, exposes students to every step of the scientific process from writing research proposals to analyzing data and presenting findings. This year’s focus was to better understand marine organism health in the face of environmental issues including climate change, oil spills, chemical contamination, invasive species, and hypoxia.
Jasmin Graham, a marine biology major, examined the question of what drives species diversity in the world’s oceans. In particular, she looked at a mystery concerning whether the unusual head size and shape of hammerhead sharks have provided an evolutionary advantage that promoted their diversification. Working with professor Gavin Naylor, she used non-traditional tools such as CT scans and 3-D computer modeling to reconstruct and compare the anatomy of different hammerhead species.
“The REU program was a great step for my scientific career,” said Graham. “You really got to learn how to conduct independent research, develop new skills and see how professional scientists pursue a variety of projects.”
Mentors for REU projects were drawn not only from the College but also from its Ft. Johnson partners, including the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The REU interns had opportunities to interact with another NSF-funded internship, the SCDNR’s Minorities in Marine and Environmental Sciences (MIMES) program, also located at the Ft. Johnson campus, as well as MUSC’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program.
Professor Bob Podolsky, director of the summer program and the Grice Marine Lab said, “It is an invaluable opportunity to live and work within this diverse scientific community and so important to support programs like the REU because these interns are our next generation of environmental scientists.”
Interns also took an intensive science communication course, led by environmental writer Carolyn Sotka, to learn how to better relate their research to societal issues and to take advantage of publicizing their work using both traditional media and the rapidly changing tools of social media.