Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Environmental Exploration: The Natural and Unnatural Features of Bermuda

Hi everyone! My name is Harrison and I stayed at BIOS doing research on the chemistry of tar as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates funded by the National Science Foundation.

Your author at work!

The natural history of the island of Bermuda is highly accessible. As part of our tenure at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), we interns partook in a romp through Walsingham—one of Bermuda’s many parks—with Field Conservation Officer Robert Chandler. Mr. Chandler enthralled us, fluidly explaining the many natural and unnatural features we observed on our walk. We stood in a gigantic natural sink-hole, staring at the beautiful curtain rock exposed when its carbonaceous housing collapsed. Innately knowing our un-vocalized questions about the origin of this dramatic geological feature, Mr. Chandler delved into the introduction of a myriad of non-native plants to Bermuda that forever changed the island’s soil chemistry. As a student of chemistry, I latched onto this particular fact. I felt a sense of awe; here was chemistry at work over the course of hundreds of years. Later in the tour, we had a chance to swim in a flooded cave—certainly another unique experience where the alkaline conditions of the pool’s water is said to leave your skin feeling strange and rubbery, like that of a shark. None of us felt shark-like in the least, but swimming in the cave was at once both haunting and exhilarating.

The cave pools of Walsingham, Bermuda

Our experience with Bermuda’s natural features and vegetation extended beyond our guided tour at Walsingham. The BIOS campus is home to many edible plants. I have had a chance to sample coconuts and bananas grown feet from our front door, and I have heard tantalizing rumors of an avocado tree as well. Fig trees also grow in abundance. The presence of edibles and easily-recognizable facets of Bermuda’s natural history is at least in part responsible for the dynamic relationship we cultivated with the environment during our stay on the island.

The view from my room!

During the last three months, I have had the pleasure to be involved in a number of trips and activities through BIOS that have deepened my appreciation for studying the environment. I have gone sampling on the Research Vessel Atlantic Explorer with the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study crew. What could be more fantastic than having your office in the middle of the ocean, and launching instruments to the lightless depths of the ocean, and taking breaks on deck in the sun. 

 Left to right: Mentor Ruth Curry with REU students Amy, Ryan, Kelsey, and Ameena watching sampling late at night on the R/V Atlantic Explorer. 

Back on land, I helped in the station-wide effort to clean anthropogenic debris from Whalebone Bay. I also walked most of the verdant and—more-often-than-not—stunning portions of the Bermuda railway trail. And even further, I have met some of the station’s trustees, and besides the excellent conversations, gleaned insightful tidbits about how their careers have brought them to be a part of BIOS.
Amy and Derek on our 15 mile walk on the Bermuda railway trail.
I could not recommend my experience at BIOS more. I sincerely hope that next Fall sees another group of interns that have a similar, remarkable experience.

The REU program at BIOS is supported by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences under Grant No. 1262880.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Outstanding Scientists and Building Friendships at BIOS

My name is Esra Mescioglu, and I’m an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. I was offered a position as a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student for the fall of 2013 at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). I was excited to accept the internship as I was told it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity and a great resume builder. What I was not told was that I would spend twelve weeks learning from outstanding scientists, building long term friendships with brilliant students and enjoying the beautiful island of Bermuda.

Me and Ameena, another REU intern, at Whalebone Bay located less than 2 miles away from BIOS.

My fellow REU 2013 interns!

The coral reef Amy and I found less than two miles away from campus!

The faculty at BIOS come from various scientific backgrounds and provide well-rounded advice.  This was especially helpful since some of us were working on projects that had never before been studied. During the program, we gave several presentations to all the interns and faculty and received feedback on how to proceed with our projects as well as how to present data in a professional manner. It was rewarding to be exposed to a conference-like atmosphere and to exchange ideas with scientists.

Our backyard located on Ferry Reach.

An advantage of early morning sampling was catching this beautiful sunrise.

This year there were 8 REU students participating in the program. We all came from different parts of America and had different scientific interests, but it was not long before we became a very tight knit, helpful and complementing group of friends.  Being around undergraduate students, who are being trained like scientists, results in having some peculiar conversations at the dinner table! We have had a great time exploring Bermuda and don’t look forward to leaving BIOS or each other. Leaving does, however, give us an excuse to plan a reunion J.

 Soccer field where we played every Monday and Thursday after work.


BIOS, Wright Hall our home for 3 months.

BIOS campus.

Adventuring with Amy, a fellow REU intern, just a mile away off campus.

The REU program at BIOS is supported by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences under Grant No. 1262880.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No Better Place To Be

Hello, my name is Amanda Alker, and I am a junior attending the Florida Atlantic University. I am currently working on the project 'Antibiotic Resistance in Bacteria from the Sewage Outfalls of Bermuda'. I can already see it; twenty years from now, I will still be talking about my 2013 REU internship in Bermuda. This program has far surpassed my expectations in more ways than one. The program itself is unique in the sense that it is a program exclusively for United States institutions, and although Bermuda is its own country, BIOS is a US institution. This loophole has allowed us to experience a new culture altogether.

The RV Stommel brought us to Nonsuch Island
Bermuda is a subtropical island with European flair. Houses are built over cliffs and rock ledges painted in bright colors. The streets and buildings are teaming with history and stories. Because the island is so isolated there is relatively little pollution. The water is truly as blue as it is in the pictures. The snorkeling and diving is full of underwater caves and rock structures, giant parrotfish and rockfish, and massive healthy coral heads. As a student with interests in Marine Biology and Environmental Health, I  don't think there could be a better place to be. 

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of my stay in Bermuda was my interaction with the Bermudians and all of the events that I was able to attend. Regardless of the time of day, weather, or situation, everyone always greets you with a "hello, you alright?" (which is our equivalent of 'what's up'). A few people from the BIOS family partook in a volleyball tournament at Horseshoe Beach in September.

Fun in the sun on pink sand beaches
 A large group of us often went to the Swizzle inn for quiz nights on Thursdays. As well as quite a few other events such as Oktoberfest, and the Rugby classic 80s party.

During my stay, I found that I spent a lot of time running on the railway trail, which is a series of interconnected trails that span the entire island. Most of the trails overlook the water and offer some of the best sights on the island.

One of the best spots by BIOS- Whalebone Bay

Along the railway trail a cruise boat leaves as a storm rolls in

 PartnerRe 5k finisher
 I've made many friends, both professional and personal, that have helped me grow greatly as a young adult in the field of research. At the initial thought of studying abroad for three months, I was almost concerned that it would be too long of a stay. Now, I can hardly believe that I live anywhere else than here. I am deeply saddened to leave, however, I know that I will make my way back some day.

From the left: Amanda, Kelsey, Amy, Esra

From the left: Amanda, Derek, Amy, Esra, Ameena, Harrison, and Ryan

The REU program at BIOS is supported by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences under Grant No. 1262880

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Stargazing from a Bio-Luminescent Ocean

Hi, my name is Kelsey Cowen, and I'm one of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) students for the fall semester of 2013. Along with seven other REU students, I have been participating in an independent research project funded by the National Science Foundation here at BIOS.     
Life at BIOS has been a wonderful experience. Having had to withdraw from school in order to take this REU opportunity, I can say with 100% certainty that my time here—with how much I’ve learned and what I’ve been able to do—was the best alternative to another semester in Western Massachusetts. Not only was the weather (usually) perfect for a day of jumping into the ocean from a 30 ft. cliff or eating ice cream at Bailey’s across the bridge, the company of the students, interns, and researchers here was always interesting and a lot of fun.
 Some of the other REU interns and I on the R/V Atlantic Explorer.

While I’ve been here, I’ve been able to do some pretty amazing things. I went for a night snorkel at Whalebone Bay which ended up becoming a night of stargazing from a bio-luminescent ocean when I realized I had worn my glasses instead of my contacts (snorkel masks don’t fit very well over sight correction hardware). I also got to volunteer at an international rugby tournament and attend a science talk on the conservation efforts of Nonsuch Island.

Swimming in a cave near the Swizzle Inn.

One of the most memorable things that I got to participate in was a cruise to the data collection sites of the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study, a long term data collection endeavor born of the Hydrostation S time series which started here around 1950. BIOS has at its disposal the research vessel Atlantic Explorer, and I was able to live on the ship for six days during a research cruise.  This trip really helped me solidify everything I’ve been learning throughout my research project. I was also able to experience what it was like to sample straight from a CTD, and I learned a lot about how oceanographic equipment has evolved with the discipline.

Sampling from the CTD on the R/V Atlantic Explorer.

Overall, my time in Bermuda at BIOS has been a crazy enjoyable one. I have loved every minute of it, and would jump at any chance to return.

The REU program at BIOS is supported by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences under Grant No. 1262880.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Anything but Bored in Bermuda: REU 2013

My name is Amy Wong and I am a senior at the University of Georgia. Participation in the NSF-REU program at BIOS has afforded me the opportunity to conduct research in the beautiful islands of Bermuda. 
Working on the microscope

Derek, Esra, Ryan, and Amanda on the way to Nonsuch Island

While I didn’t know what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised by all experiences I’ve had and all the people I’ve met. Upon arrival, the first thing I did was cool down from the heat with a swim at Concrete Beach. Although it isn’t as spectacular as I once thought after seeing the real beaches of Bermuda, I still appreciate it as a great spot in the backyard of BIOS. From snorkeling at Whalebone Bay to streaking agar plates in the lab, I have been anything but bored in Bermuda.

Kelsey and Clarisse at Cooper's Island

During my project, I investigated the microbial communities of the coral Porites astreoides with culture work and fluorescent in situ hybridization, which gave me insight into the life of a researcher. I learned about the frustration and troubleshooting that occur when aspects of experiments do not work, in addition to the excitement of discovery.  

Watching the US beat Australia at the World Rugby Classic
Finishing a long day of walking with an amazing view 
Jobson's Cove

Outside of Naess laboratories, the REUs and myself have been lucky to do a lot of Bermuda exploration. Some of the highlights were walking from BIOS to Jobson’s Bay, SCUBA diving at The Cathedral, cliff jumping at Spanish Point, tubing in the Harrington Sound, attending a lecture at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, and hiking through Tom Moore’s Jungle. 

The REU program at BIOS is supported by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences under Grant No. 1262880.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Life at Sea: Weather, Science, and Food.

Hi, my name is Derek Schwenkmeyer and I am a biology and statistics major from the University of California, Santa Barbara. I'm working at BIOS right now to study the ecogenotoxicology of copper in Bermuda as part of a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). 

For part of my project I went on a six-day oceanographic cruise on board the R/V Atlantic Explorer. Many of these cruises are used by people working on a program called BATS (Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study), which monitors temperature, salinity, chlorophyll content, nutrient levels, eddy patterns, etc. at different locations in the mid-Atlantic. Before getting on the ship, I knew another REU (Esra Mescioglu), Brandon Gibbs--who works with one of my mentors in the Trace-Metal Chemistry Lab, and my roommate James Munro, who is a math major from Cambridge modeling ocean currents with BATS. Side note about James- we got him to read the sorting hat song from Harry Potter with his lovely British accent in exchange for laundry quarters. I have it on tape.

Esra and I thoroughly enjoyed the safety drill, specifically the Gumby suits.
I needed to collect very clean seawater as a control for my REU project. I also helped collect dirt from the bottom of the ocean (5000 meters deep) for another project in the Trace-Metal Chemistry Lab.

In order to collect water from different depths in as little time as possible without any metal contamination, we sent down a Kevlar rope tied to open plastic bottles that could be triggered to close when struck from above. Each bottle was attached to a weight that would slide down the rope and trigger the next bottle, as well as release the next weight. It was very satisfying pulling the bottles up one-by-one and seeing that each had closed as expected.

Brandon and I in the middle of a Kevlar cast. 
The device we used to collect the dirt sample was designed for use in water about 50 meters deep, and is essentially just a spring trap that is supposed to slam shut when it hits dirt. Unfortunately, because of the incredibly high pressure of the deep ocean, the first two times we sent it out the device probably wasn’t moving with enough force to trigger the spring. On our third attempt, we strapped on about 300 lbs of dense weights to the sides of the scoop. To everyone’s surprise, the device was triggered and we managed to pull about one gram of dirt up from the bottom. I never thought I could be so happy to see a little mud!

Preparing to scoop up some dirt.

Did this cast collect any soil? A few seconds after this photo we found that the answer was no.
One thing I was really surprised about was the quality of the food. I don’t think I have ever had a week in which I’ve eaten as well as I did on that ship. The crew had tons of exotic sauces and spices and the best ingredients you can keep on a ship. We got to enjoy guacamole, sushi, fried lionfish, curry, and much more (all with my favorite condiment—Sriracha hot sauce). At sea your life pretty much revolves around weather, science, and food, so the great meals were much appreciated by everyone.

I've never seen a sunset like this on land.
While there was a lot of down time, a busy ship like this has casts going out 24 hours a day. That means having some 3am casts is pretty much expected. On average it took about three long naps for me to get all of my sleep in! Despite the odd hours, I really appreciated having the opportunity to work on board the AE. It was great to meet scientists doing fieldwork in oceanography and get firsthand view of an oceanographer’s lifestyle.

A successful cruise!
The REU program at BIOS is supported by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences under Grant No. 1262880.

Monday, November 18, 2013

REU in Bermuda: Be Prepared!

Hi, my name is Ameena El-Bibany.  I'm currently a fifth-year (super senior!) undergraduate at the University of California Davis majoring in genetics and minoring in animal biology.  I'm a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) this fall conducting my research in the Molecular Discovery lab here at BIOS.  I've learned quite a few things during my time here both in and out of the lab.  For example, as soon as you settle into your room, find a fan.  Being Egyptian, I thought I could handle any amount of heat, but Bermuda's mixture of heat and humidity proved me wrong.  All through September and October, I felt silly for even packing pants and sweats but once November hit, I couldn't have been more grateful.  So the rule of thumb is: be prepared for extreme weather.

In the lab reviewing data.

Nonsuch Island Tour.

I learned some solid life lessons in the lab as well, the first being that even though my friends and family back home thought I was taking an extended vacation, this was far from it.  Though surrounded by beautiful scenery that makes you just want to sip some lemonade by the water, BIOSians take their science seriously.  Having advisers super dedicated to their work definitely rubbed off on me, in a good way.  So lesson number two is be prepared to work… hard.

Lesson three: things will go wrong.  But fear not because every scientist encounters this!  Something I value a lot that I've learned here is what to do when you encounter a problem, but more accurately, how to think.  You can only learn so much of this sort of critical thinking through classes in college, the rest has to come from real-life research experience.  So get ready to use your brain because obstacles in research are inevitable.  I suppose what I learned here I also learned from Scar in Lion King when he sang, “Be prepaaaaared!”  Though I guess he wasn’t really intending it as advice for research and traveling…

Oh, one more thing to be prepared for: an amazing experience in a beautiful country building skills that will take you far and making friends that will last a lifetime.  It will be well worth it.

The REU program at BIOS is supported by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences under Grant No. 1262880.