Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Undergraduate Lauren Barrett Conducts Chemical Oceanography Research

Howdy! Y’all gig’em in Aggieland!

That’s just some of the culture I picked up this summer at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. I and nine other undergraduate students from around the country were selected to participate in their ten week Observing the Ocean Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. In this program, I had the opportunity to work with an Oceanography research professor on an independent research project. My responsibilities included writing a formal research proposal, conducting laboratory experiments, collecting water samples on an oceanographic research vessel, processing and analyzing data, and communicating the results of my research both orally and in a poster presentation. 

I was mentored by Dr. Kathryn Shamberger, who studies carbonate chemistry, ocean acidification, and coral reef biogeochemistry. My research project studied the effects of Hurricane Harvey on the coral reef ecosystems at the Flower Garden Banks (FGB) National Marine Sanctuary, which is in the Gulf of Mexico. Little is known about their water chemistry, so the data I analyzed this summer will be used in future work to elucidate the temporal variation in the environment. My research found that, with respect to their ability to generate calcium carbonate skeletons, the FGB coral reef ecosystems were not negatively impacted by Hurricane Harvey. 

The most exciting part of the REU was the opportunity to work on an oceanographic research vessel. In June, we embarked on a three-day cruise in the Gulf of Mexico on the R/V Pelican. We used a Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) instrument to assess water column data such as dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, temperature, depth, and salinity. We also collected water samples for chemical and biological analysis. 

My experiences in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at Bloomsburg University prepared me for this experience. I was able to quickly learn to use and troubleshoot our lab’s main analytical instrument, the VINDTA, as well as display mastery of other laboratory techniques. Those skills were not granted naturally, and the excellent guidance of BU chemistry faculty, in both research and coursework, is where credit is owed. My exposure to a wide variety of instruments in Physical Chemistry and in my research at BU last summer was particularly helpful. I could not have succeeded as I did this summer without the prior mentorship of BU faculty! 

Though my research project has concluded, I will continue to communicate its results. Based on an oral presentation I gave at the end of the program, I received a travel award to attend the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico this February! I am so grateful for the opportunities that I have been exposed to by participating in this REU.
My positive experience at Texas A&M this summer has inspired me to pursue a career in Chemical Oceanography. This fall I will be applying for Ph.D. programs! I highly recommend participation in REU programs to undergraduate chemistry students. I wish I would have participated in one earlier in my undergraduate career. It is important to be exposed to different fields of research as well as the resources that larger universities can offer. An REU program can also be a good indication of your suitability for graduate school, if that’s something you’re not sure about (I wasn’t). My advice would be to keep an open mind when considering what you would like to do with your chemistry degree. Without the guidance of the wonderful Dr. Venn of the EGGS Department, I probably would have never known that Chemical Oceanography existed. Cast a wide net, because you never know what research you will end up falling in love with!
~ Lauren Barrett

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