We start off our week with a chance to engage with the Charleston community by sharing our research with others at the Charleston Marine Life Center. Each lab had their own little booth around the aquarium and we were able to tell anyone interested what we were doing for our projects. The most fun part is that we were responsible for bringing anything we might want to engage our audience with. Kaylee and I created a couple diagrams to help us explain our ideas and brought one of our pressure vessels to let people see it in action. We had an amazing turnout, and many people found our projects very interesting. Many wanted to know more about us than our projects, but it was fun to figure out how to explain our research to people with various backgrounds.
The stress of the summer ending is starting to build up as we are creating our posters while trying to collect data for the posters at the same time. Kaylee and I spent the first few days of the week trying to get all of the pressure and temperature data collected and analyzed. We were able to get both urchin species to spawn again which we did not think we were going to be able to do. We were able to run one more pressure experiment and ended up getting data that contradicted what we had gotten recently.
At the same time, I am trying to collect data from my two detritus experiments and have run into a few bumps in the road. None of them will ruin the project, but it just causes us to get a little more creative. The S. purpuratus larvae culture did not make it through the weekend so hopefully I do not need them again, which I should not. The behavioral study I set up last week is giving me the exact opposite results I expected, which is not a bad thing. With all of the surprises this week, we have been trying to not get distracted from our due date of the poster on Friday. I am happy with the contents of my poster so far, and I have gotten amazing feedback from my advisor and other students, but I will rushing to get all of my data in time.
This past weekend was the official, unofficial “parent’s weekend” because several of the interns had parents come to visit. We arranged a tour of the OIMB campus for the parents, so they can see the labs and see what their kids are up to. The tour went very well, and all of the parents seemed very interested. After the tour, we spent a couple hours in OIMB’s marine life center to see the exhibits and we started to think about the displays we will be presenting the next weekend. After enjoying a nice relaxing weekend, it was time to start my busiest week yet. I have now practiced my methods, figured out the “perfect” experiment design, and I’m running out of time to run the experiment. I planned to have all of my experiments started and running smoothly by the end of the week.
The first project I decided to conquer this week was to construct the behavior experiment. This experiment was not originally planned, and it could bring some interesting results. I started feeding some cultures of larvae detritus and starving another culture to see how much difference there was. After a few days, I noticed that the cultures with food (either phytoplankton or detritus) were staying to the bottom of the jars or dispersing evenly throughout the water column. At the same time, the larvae that were being starved were actually all swimming to the top. This suggests that they may be going up to where food should be since phytoplankton is found in the surface waters in the real world. To document that, Dr. Young and I got creative and I spent my week making a very interesting method of extracting water from different depths without disturbing the rest of the culture. It took me drilling insulin syringes into the sides of the jars with valves that I could open or close and be able to attach another syringe on the outside to pull out the water. This will let me see how many larvae are at each depth.
My other experiment is to see how much of the detritus they are eating and to see if they are actually developing while eating it. To make sure I can prove they are eating it I have some wells with food but no larvae, some with larvae and no food, and then obviously some with larvae and food. Some have detritus as food and others have their normal phytoplankton as food. Having those other treatments will be able to show that they are eating the detritus and it’s not disintegrating and it will show they’re not just starving. I created a probably too complicated way of sorting them out and making sure they’re all being fed the right things but at least I know it will work! I will let the experiment run for two weeks, and if everything goes as planned, then we will have some serious data! This week we have also been working on our posters, our CMLC displays for Saturday, and getting our costumes ready for the invertebrate ball on Thursday.
We start our week with a wonderful day trip to Newport, OR to visit the Hatfield Marine Science Center and to explore the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The drive up the coast to Newport was stunning and the weather could not have been better. When we arrived at Hatfield MSC, we walked around their visitor’s center and we were able to watch them feed their giant pacific octopus which was pretty cool. After that, we got a tour of the marine science center and got the inside scoop on some of the NOAA labs there. The tour was very nice, and it was interesting to see such a large and popular marine lab. After our tour, we were allowed to roam the Oregon Coast Aquarium for the rest of the afternoon. Since I hadn’t been to an aquarium in several years, I made sure to hit every exhibit and see all of the mammal shows. We even got a group picture made!
On Sunday, we decided to visit the sand dunes that are close to OIMB, so we grabbed some friends and some boogieboards to make it that much more fun. We went to a freshwater lake in the dunes called Hall Lake which was actually warm enough to swim in. Most got sunburnt, but it turned out to be one of the most fun days yet. It was then time to get back to work.
On Monday, we had another day of massive amounts of data collection. We had the pressure, temperature, and detritus experiment all running over the weekend. I spent the morning checking on the larvae in the detritus experiment. I checked to see how many were still alive, how much food they ate, and changed their water all while Kaylee was checking on the ones in the temperature experiment. Later that evening, we rallied the troops that helped us last week and they were generous enough to help us again. I don’t know how late we stayed but I do know we took a break to go watch the sunset. And after that night, we were practically done with the really intensive portion of the pressure and temperature tolerance experiments! The rest of the week I was checking on the detritus experiment to discover that the larvae are eating the detritus and that they can survive quite a while without food as well. Kaylee and I gathered our data together so that we could start analyzing it and to be prepared for a R workshop that Ross, one of the grad students here, was giving on Thursday. The workshop was the first time I had been introduced to R and Rstudio, and it was pretty intense. I have never had any coding experience before, so it was a steep learning curve. I came out of it a little overwhelmed, but I am happy to be able to play around with it now.
I started my long week with an absolutely amazing day. I was invited (kind of invited myself) on a boat trip with the deep-sea biology class to deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The ROV is pretty much a remote-controlled submarine with cameras and lights on it and is used to get video footage of deep-sea ecosystems. The weather was beautiful and the deployment of the ROV went smoothly. Although I wish it was much longer, I did get to drive it around for a few minutes and maneuver around the reef 200 feet below the boat. We got to see deep-sea corals, giant anemones, creepy looking fish, and much more. I was able to help out and learn a lot about the deployment and logistics of using the ROV.
The rest of the week turned out to be a little more hectic. On Tuesday, we spent our day fixing a third pressure vessel so that we could simulate four different depths (0m, 500m, 1000m, & 2000m) during our pressure tolerance experiments. We were preparing to set up temperature and pressure tolerance experiments on Wednesday with newly fertilized eggs. When Wednesday arrived, Dr. Young wanted his deep-sea biology class to be involved in the pressure experiment so that they can see how high pressures can affect deep-sea animals and larvae. The students in the class helped us spawn the shallow water purple urchins (S. purpuratus) and the deep-sea urchins (S. fragilis). We didn’t get many of the urchins to spawn, and those that did were not generous with their gametes, so we didn’t get as much as we wanted. We got enough to run the experiment though. After fertilizing the eggs, we immediately placed some in the different pressure vessels and the rest were used in the temperature experiment. Also, I polished my methods for my detrital feeding experiment with my mentor. It took us quite a while to figure out exactly how I could know how much detritus I was actually feeding each larva. I decided that I needed some practice with my methods before I started the experiment, so I stayed in the lab late into the night to make sure I was ready.
On Thursday, I was expecting to collect the data for the pressure experiment pretty quickly and I would be able to start the detritus experiment, but it took much longer than expected. Even with the help of Dr. Young, we did not finish until 9:30 p.m. that night. After we recorded each vial of larvae we would place the larvae back in and repressurize so that we could see them after 48 hours. We would also be finishing the temperature experiment on Friday as well as starting the detritus experiment, so we had to phone a few friends. We asked everyone we knew that was free that afternoon and offered them pizza for their help. Kaylee even sent out a S.O.S. (Save Our Study) email to get as many hands as possible. Our cry for help did not go unanswered and we had so many generous volunteers to help us with everything when they could have been enjoying their Friday night. All of the data collection did still take quite a while, but we took pizza breaks and tried to hold on to our sanity after spending many hours looking through a microscope for tiny eggs. After several long nights, I am ready for the weekend.
Our fourth week starts with a long weekend of camping at Cape Arago State Park with other undergraduate research interns from University of Oregon’s main campus. On Saturday, after the OIMB interns got done with a nice night of camping to ourselves, we met the other students and some of us were able to give them tours of our labs. Many were interested in seeing Dr. Young’s lab because we have a room of preserved dead creatures including sharks, stingrays, and other creepy crawlies. Once the other interns were done touring campus, we all headed back to the campsite, so that they could unpack and get settled in. To break the ice, we challenged some to an ultimate frisbee game and everyone got pretty competitive, to say the least. We then enjoyed some hotdogs and hamburgers from the grill while everyone gathered around the campfire to listen to everyone attempt to play the multiple instruments brought. The next morning, everyone went to South Cove for a tide pooling expedition and us marine biology nerds pointed out all of the interesting creatures even if the other interns didn’t find them as interesting.
The weekend was very fun, but it came with a hint of stress for the OIMB interns because of our big proposal that was due on Tuesday. We fought our lack of sleep and worked hard on writing our best proposals. When Tuesday came it was time for half of us to present our proposal and I thought everyone did very well and I was excited to find out what everyone was planning on doing. I got some very helpful suggestions from my presentation and it got me thinking about the more fine details in my proposal. The main thing I needed to figure out was what my detritus will be made of. Detritus is defined as dead organic matter that sinks to the sea floor. Since it is such a broad term, it is my job to figure out exactly what kind of detritus I want to feed the larvae. I have spent most of my week reading the scientific literature on how others are creating or gathering detritus. I have compiled all of the other methods and I think I have created the world’s first detritus cookbook. With all of the recipes I have compiled, I have been able to create my own homemade detritus recipe that consists of a lot of phytoplankton, a shrimp skeleton puree, acetic acid, and sodium hydroxide. Some ingredients are harder to get than others. Hopefully, after I mix everything together and serve with some freshly filtered sea water, the larvae will happily eat it. I will feed a small sample some detritus and check on them after the weekend to just see if any of them are actually eating. If all goes well, we will start our big experiments next week!
We started our third week with a nice trip to University of Oregon’s main campus in Eugene. Upon arrival, we were greeted by another group of undergraduate researchers from UO that gave us a tour of the campus. We were able to see the labs that a few of the other researchers were working in. After our tour, we spent a couple hours checking out the Saturday Market in Eugene which is a few blocks of town filled with booths selling handmade souvenirs and locally made food. After enjoying the market, we went to the Museum of Natural and Cultural History and were able to enjoy the exhibits they had. After, we travelled to downtown Eugene for dinner and got carried away playing pool for a few hours.
On Sunday, several of us went on a plant walk in Cape Arago state park where one of the rangers led us down a beautiful trail identifying and telling fun facts about many of the interesting plants we came across. After the tour, Daniel, the park ranger, set us free to explore the trails on our own. After a few minutes, I found a rope that leads down a steep hill to a secluded beach and so obviously I pressured all of my friends to join me in scaling the mountain. Not surprisingly, it was completely worth the treacherous hike. After exploring we went back to campus for lunch and everyone that didn’t go that morning got jealous. So, we went again that night with everyone else and watched the sunset from the rocky cliffs.
After the fun weekend, it was time to get back to work. Kaylee, my lab partner, and I spent the beginning of the week preparing for running our first real experiment. We were going to subject our deep-sea urchin (S. fragilis) and purple urchin (S. purpuratus) larvae to 10 different temperatures between 5 and 19 degrees to see if the larvae can survive. We had been tinkering with the temperature gradient device for a week now and we finally got it working to run the experiment Tuesday night.
After dinner Tuesday night, we removed exactly 400 larvae of each species and placed them in vials of 20 larvae each. We then placed two vials of each species in their assigned temperatures and left them for 24 hours. On Wednesday night, we started to remove the larvae from each vial and really struggled. Since neither of us had done anything like this before, we were making very slow progress. We finally decided that we would only measure one vial from each temperature because we would have been there for another 24 hours just counting. It took us over 5 hours to count half of the larvae and this left us having another late night. Luckily, the next day we had off for the 4th of July, so we could sleep in and relax. Everyone from OIMB went to Sunset bay for the annual picnic where we ate great food, had an egg toss, and played an intense game of ultimate frisbee. After having a nice day off, I finished the week by joining the Deep-sea Biology class in a dredging mission on R/V Pluteus since the last attempt went poorly. We ended up having beautiful weather and collected some really interesting species. Some sea lions swam right up next to the boat and nothing managed to break this time. It was a pretty good trip, if I had to say so myself.
It has been one full week since we successfully spawned the deep-sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus fragilis, and they are looking great! We have been checking on them multiple times a day and watching them develop while taking pictures at each stage. They started as eggs which are tiny boring circles under the microscope and have grown to beautiful larvae that are rocket ship shaped with cute pink spots all over them. We have been able to document each of the major stages in their development, giving insight on the unknown embryology of this species.
As a lab, we have been discussing what experiments we can conduct with this culture of larvae. Since we are not sure if we will be able to get another larvae culture, we are trying to get as much done with what we have. We plan to test the temperature and pressure tolerances of the larvae to see if they develop better at different pressures or temperatures. For studying temperature tolerances, we will have vials of larvae placed into an aluminum block that flows warm water on one side and cold water on the other. This creates a steady gradient of temperatures between the two sides and we can see how the larvae develop at each temperature level on that gradient. For studying pressure tolerances, we will place different vials of larvae in aluminum pressure vessels that are pressurized by a hydraulic pump. Each vessel will be subjected to different amounts of pressure and taken out and analyzed at the same time to see how they develop. The only issue we have come across is that the equipment has not been used in years. So, we have spent a lot of time this week tinkering and getting creative, to make sure all of our equipment is working properly.
Our second week has been filled with much more than just parenting our urchin babies and tinkering with old toys. We started our week with an excursion on OIMB’s research vessel, the Pluteus, to dredge for different invertebrates on the ocean floor. And just like any good boat trip, some problems arose, but that is what makes them fun! Many got seasick, the dredging net got caught and the cable had to be cut, and the boom of the boat holding the cable snapped. All were unfortunate but have already been fixed since the trip. On the bright side, the few of us that were not sick did get to see some sea lions! Everyone took the rest of the day to recover from the trip, but the next day, we got right back to exploring. Almost every day, we have explored a new part of the rugged coast. Whether it has been wading through rivers or watching the sunset from a cave in the mountain, I have not been bored since I arrived.
My name is Matthew Mullins and I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama. After going to high school in Birmingham, I decided to follow my dreams of becoming a marine biologist in the one place that sounded the best suited for that field, the Caribbean. I moved to St. Thomas to attend the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). Four weeks after starting classes, the largest recorded hurricane in the Atlantic hit St. Thomas directly destroying the island I was just starting to call home. After a couple weeks of post-hurricane madness, I was lucky enough to get off the island and back home before another category 5 hurricane hit the Caribbean. It took the university over a month to get power, water, and classes running again, but I came back to help in relief effort and resume classes. Although there have been many challenges, I have stayed on St. Thomas getting an educational experience unlike any other. I have become very involved in UVI’s marine biology program and have been fortunate enough to participate in various research projects throughout my time there. These opportunities have led me to become very passionate about conducting marine research. I want to get as much research experience as possible and explore different fields so that I can find what area of research I am passionate in, and that is why I applied for this REU program.
After my first week here at OIMB there is one fact that is obvious. I am not in the Caribbean anymore. But to my surprise, the Oregon coast has already blown me away with its beauty. Yes, I may have to put on multiple layers to go outside and my tan may not be as good but the few places I have explored this week are unlike any place I have experienced before. OIMB has exceeded my expectations and has proven to be a very comfortable and easy-going place to live. The community is very close-knit and everyone I have met so far is extremely helpful and kind. My mentor is Dr. Craig Young and the plan for what research we are going to do this summer has seemed to change every day, and that’s just how I like it. Constantly, we are finding something new interesting to study. We originally planned on doing feeding experiments with a deep-sea urchin, the fragile pink urchin (S. fragilis). But, when we started placing them into a flume with warmer water, they became stressed and began to spawn. This changed everything! Since we are able to get gametes from the urchins, we can now create a culture and track the stages of development, which has not been properly done before. So, we end our first amazing week with a long night of continuously watching the embryos form and documenting every stage!
My name is Matthew Mullins and I am from Birmingham, AL. I am currently a rising junior studying marine biology at the University of the Virgin Islands. I am working in Dr. Young’s lab and I’m looking forward to exploring the Oregon coast and getting some interesting research experience!