Our REU interns are back at their respective colleges after a busy summer of independent research here at LUMCON. Over the past ten weeks, they presented a project proposal, designed a scientific study and progressed through the “try-tweak-redo-repeat” process that is the scientific method! Each intern presented his or her research at a student symposium on August 11th, in Cocodrie.
Sara Gholson is a rising senior at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL majoring in marine science. She is an active member of the college’s Marine Science Club that promotes education and volunteer work on campus and in the community. As a Florida native, Sara grew up going to beaches, aquariums and nature reserves and was taught to observe and learn from the world around her. She knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a future in science because it allowed her to explore, experiment, and ask questions.
Sara found the REU program through a simple Google search and was drawn in by the possibility of independent research in any number of new locations. LUMCON’s unique locale in the marshes of southeastern Louisiana was particularly attractive to her. Sara’s research was an offshoot of a larger project led by LUMCON’s Executive Director and faculty member Dr. Craig McClain. Dr. McClain’s lab collected deep-sea samples while on a scientific cruise for his Gulf Wood Fall project (http://craigmcclain.com/?page_id=423) in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this summer. Her project focused on examining the community of macrofauna (small invertebrates that live on or in sediment) within sediment cores taken on the aforementioned cruise. Large numbers of cores were taken within feet of each other and yet there were drastically different populations of organisms in each sediment sample. Sara explained that diversity in sediment grain size and unpredictable additions of nutrients create microhabitats that allow for increased diversity of macrofauna. Although there are still more questions than answers regarding the deep sea, scientists are beginning to understand how and why microhabitats form at depth and what factors contribute to both their longevity and fragility (Google “patch mosaic hypothesis” for more details).
Sara plans to attend graduate school after her graduation from Eckerd and sees herself pursuing research positions in coastal or deep-sea invertebrates. “I find invertebrates to be fantastic indicators of an ecosystem’s health so I would like to further study their roles in the environment as bio-indicators,” she explained. With these plans in mind, the REU program also provided Sara with opportunities to hone her professional skills as each intern had to develop their own research proposal and then formally present their findings in a scientific symposium setting. Sara believes these skills are just as valuable as the research experience as she begins to think about career paths.
When asked about her favorite aspect of being in Cocodrie, Sara said: “I love how beautiful coastal Louisiana is and how the marsh surrounds the LUMCON facility. I find this area so peaceful and untamed that I believe it’s the perfect area for the most natural marine research possible.”
Look for more profiles here and on CWC and LUMCON social media!