Had there been any doubts about the new Colby at Bigelow Laboratory marine science program, the events culminating the first session would have swept them away in a tidal wave of scientific results and mutual admiration.
On Dec. 12 the four students completing their semester in residence at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, presented posters summarizing their independent research projects. They talked about the supercharged learning experience that began in August before hugging their mentors and bidding farewell.
At the poster session Bigelow senior research scientists who were their teachers, mentors, and collaborators asked sophisticated questions about the science and received confident, cogent explanations. Topics included the behavior of the Gulf of Maine’s sea-surface microlayer, the effects of oil spills on microbes in marine sediment, and two studies of the potentially toxic diatom Pseudo-nitzschia, which closed shellfish beds in Maine for the first time last fall.
Cynthia Heil, the Bigelow senior scientist who mentored Grace Reville ’14 as Reville studied light and nutrient ecology of the deadly diatom, emphasized the real-world value of the Colby students’ work. The research projects will be the basis of a Maine Sea Grant proposal, Heil said. Reville’s project and one by Marianne Ferguson ’14 on how to better test for Pseudo-nitzschia provide critical puzzle pieces as government officials and fishermen deal with this new threat to public health in shellfish populations.
“It’s a lot of work.” Reville said in reference to the whole program. “I can’t understate that. But we learned so much.” In her case, the intense research and lab work provide the bona fides as a scientist that she feels will give her heightened credibility in her chosen area of focus—environmental policy. “I really love the science,” Reville said, “but I’m passionate about the policy.” Understanding the biochemistry and the rigors of research is a critical part of her portfolio. “I get that. I want to be taken seriously.”
“You can apply this knowledge to so many things,” Ferguson says in a Bigelow Lab video about the program. “You don’t have to be a marine scientist.”
Students heaped praise on their mentors, but they also praised the program overall and the intensive attention they received. “Here you have three Ph.D.s to one student,” Josephine Liang ’14 says in the Bigelow Lab video. “That is a ratio that you just can’t beat.”