Three Months at BIOS Provides a Springboard for Success

For twelve weeks last fall, BIOS welcomed eight students as part of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. This annual research-based internship program pairs students with BIOS faculty and research staff, allowing them to work together on hands-on, lab or field-based research projects from start to finish.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cancelled many in-person education experiences worldwide in 2020, but last fall the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at BIOS proceeded with strict quarantine measures and social distancing procedures in place, in accordance with Bermuda Government guidelines.

The research-based internship program has been part of the Institute’s university-level educational offerings since 1991. It gives undergraduate students the opportunity to spend 12 weeks at BIOS, working alongside faculty members and scientific staff on research projects to explore a range of topics in marine and atmospheric sciences.

During the program, students also participate in a variety of workshops—led by BIOS scientific and education staff—designed to provide them with skills to help them grow as early career scientists, such as scientific record keeping, data analysis, communicating science, and writing research proposals.

This year, BIOS welcomed eight students from colleges and universities across the United States. They arrived in Bermuda in late August and their internships took them through late November, allowing them to return home in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The following section includes a brief introduction to each of BIOS’s 2020 REU interns, a description of their research projects, and personal reflections on their time at BIOS and experience within the REU program.

Nicole Adamson is a second-year marine biology student at the University of California San Diego. Prior to coming to BIOS, she conducted research at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. At BIOS, she worked with marine ecologist Yvonne Sawall exploring how corals and algae, the main photosynthetic organisms in reef ecosystems, utilize light. She used an instrument to explore the relative importance of different light-use pathways, including photosynthesis, employed by these organisms over the course of a day. Understanding the fundamentals of how reef systems function helps scientists to better predict how corals will respond to the impacts of climate change.

“When I came to Bermuda, I didn’t expect to form such amazing connections with the other students,” Adamson said. “Not only did I learn new ways of seeing the world, but I also learned so much about myself.”

Jacob Ancri is a third-year student at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York where he is majoring in biomedical engineering with a concentration in biomaterials. He is also pursuing a minor in psychology. During his internship at BIOS, Ancri worked with environmental chemist Andrew Peters on a project to develop a method for analyzing the presence of microplastics in the atmosphere. By using filtered air samples collected at the Tudor Hill Marine Atmosphere Observatory, Ancri established and validated a quick, inexpensive chemical staining method that allowed microplastic particles to be illuminated when observed under a fluorescent microscope. Ideally, the development of this method will motivate scientists and environmental groups to begin similar studies on a larger scale.  

“This internship exceeded all expectations I had in the first week,” Ancri said. “The program was designed in such a way that extreme independence was granted to us within a well-structured developmental framework.”

Jerry Goss is a third-year student at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts where he studies electrical and computer engineering. He has a passion for diversifying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and seeks opportunities to engage with events and organizations that share this goal. At BIOS, Goss worked with plankton ecologist Leocadio Blanco-Bercial using computer algorithms to speed up the identification of plankton species. This process, also called machine learning, saves researchers from having to manually classify each plankton species, which is particularly important in biologically diverse areas such as the Sargasso Sea.

“Being able to manage this project and rely on others for support was really helpful. This will hopefully serve as a foundation for future projects since I now have experience working independently,” Goss said.

Gaile Greene is a fourth-year student at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island where she is majoring in marine biology. In 2019, she came to BIOS as a fall semester student and worked with biological oceanographer Amy Maas on a small research project investigating the metabolic processes of plankton. As an REU intern, she again worked with Maas, this time on a project examining the behavior of a tiny marine crustacean—the copepod Calanopia americana. The goal of her project was to keep the copepods alive in the lab long enough to run experiments on their respiration and excretion, as well as to investigate their circadian rhythms. The ability to maintain a supply of healthy, cultured organisms in the laboratory saves time and money, preventing researchers from having to go out in the field (in this case, to sea) each time they need live study animals.

“The NSF REU program at BIOS is a great way for undergraduates to gain research experience,” Greene said. “A BIOS internship allows students to gain experience in their scientific field, and is an opportunity to learn a lot from amazing scientists from around the world and create lifelong connections.”

Cali Grincavitch is a fourth-year student at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts majoring in integrative biology with a particular interest in marine biology and conservation. She became interested in marine life after traveling to the Great Barrier Reef for a class and subsequently sought out a remote internship at the University of Sydney. At BIOS, she worked with research specialist Tim Noyes testing the sampling capabilities of a sub-surface automated sampler for the collection of fish DNA in the environment, otherwise known as eDNA. Her project compared the detection rates and robustness of automated sampling to two previously accepted methodologies, which required both fieldwork to collect the samples and molecular work in the lab to process them. The automated sampler, on the other hand, would provide researchers with a non-invasive way of assessing the biodiversity of fish communities for long-term monitoring projects.

“I have grown so much through the mentorship and experiences at BIOS,” Grincavitch said. “I am more confident in myself and my work, and I have developed an incredible skill set, from creating effective presentations to convey my research findings to collecting samples and processing them in the lab. All of these lessons and skills are things I could never have received from a book or online lesson.”

Shannon Lemieux is a fourth-year student at Oregon State University majoring in fisheries and wildlife sciences with a minor in earth sciences. During her internship at BIOS, she worked with reef systems ecologist Eric Hochberg on a project studying the phenology, or yearly cycle of change, of coral pigment in Bermuda’s corals. Her project was aimed at developing a better understanding of the natural variation in coral pigments during the fall, and what conditions drive that variation. With more complete knowledge of the normal responses and pigment variations of corals, extreme and abnormal variations in coral pigments, such as coral bleaching, can be better quantified.

“I wholeheartedly recommend an internship at BIOS to anyone who has a passion for research at the Institute,” Lemieux said. “It allows students to be a part of an amazing and supportive community while gaining invaluable fieldwork and lab experiences.”

Natalia Padillo-Anthemides is a fourth-year marine biology student at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. She is also a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship recipient, which allowed her to study abroad and obtain certificates in Middle Eastern and Asian studies. For her REU project, she worked with benthic ecologist Yvonne Sawall studying carbon cycling on reefs. Specifically, she looked at the dominant reef photosynthesizers—corals and algae—and their total carbon intake and output. The goal of her research was to create a model for the diurnal (daily) pattern of oxygen-carbon dynamics for application to the carbon budget of coral reefs, which face degradation due to a variety of issues, such as ocean acidification, climate change, and coastal erosion.

“The REU program was the most enriching experience I’ve ever had,” Padillo-Anthemides said. “I learned a lot about myself and acquired numerous skills. I genuinely appreciate how much more competent and confident I have become in my field.”

Adam Shaham is a third-year student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. where he is studying the intersection of climate change, international relations, and diplomacy. He plans to pursue a joint master’s degree in international policy and environmental science to inform future work in shaping equitable climate policy. At BIOS, he worked with research specialist Tim Noyes investigating the spread of Indo-Pacific lionfish across Bermuda’s reefs. Previous research has shown that lionfish are already consuming a native fish, the bluehead wrasse, in large quantities. By combining temperature measurements, sea-floor videos, and fish observations in a species distribution model, Shaham mapped the habitats of bluehead wrasse across Bermuda. After comparing this map with recorded sightings of lionfish, he analyzed if bluehead wrasse habitats are an accurate predictor of where lionfish invasions occur in Bermuda, which could help inform future conservation efforts to protect local fish communities.

“I cannot recommend the NSF REU program at BIOS enough,” Shaham said. “Through academic enrichment opportunities students honed their research skills and gained a deep understanding of marine sciences in Bermuda.”

For more information on the BIOS REU program please visit http://www.bios.edu/education/reu.