Summer internship offers hands-on marine research at Duke's coastal campus
Interns in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program get immersed in the marine environment through real-world research with engaged faculty at the Duke University Marine Lab.
Coastal and Estuarine Physical Processes
- Dr. Jim Hench (physical oceanography)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
- Dr. Tom Schultz (marine conservation genetics)
Sensory Physiology, Ecology, and Behavior
- Dr. Richard Forward (invertebrate physiological ecology)
- Dr. Matthew Godfrey (sea turtle biology & conservation)
- Dr. Dana Hunt (marine microbial ecology)
- Dr. Zackary Johnson (marine microbe abundance & diversity)
- Dr. Douglas Nowacek (marine mammal behavioral ecology and bioacoustics)
- Dr. Kathy Reinsel & Dr. Jim Welch (invertebrate ecology)
- Dr. Andy Read (ecology and conservation of marine mammals)
- Dr. Brian Silliman (marine ecology)
Example Project Descriptions
Coastal and Estuarine Physical Processes
Dr. Jim Hench. The Hench lab conducts research on shallow-water physical oceanography, environmental fluid mechanics, and physical-biological interactions. Much of our current research involves understanding circulation and transport on coral reef systems. REU project topics for summer 2022 will focus on analyses of recently collected field data from our projects in Puerto Rico, Mo’orea, and Tetiaroa. Summer REU students in the Hench lab receive training in quantitative data analysis methods and modeling techniques. Past summer REU students in Hench’s lab have presented their research at national scientific meetings and gone on to Ph.D. programs at top universities. Students with a background in engineering, applied math, and physics are particularly encouraged to apply. Marine sciences or environmental science majors with quantitative interests and background are also welcome.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Dr. Tom Schultz is a molecular biologist and serves as the Director of the Marine Conservation Molecular Facility (MCMF). His research interests lie in the use of molecular/genomic tools to address issues in conservation genetics and understand adaptations to to the marine environment at a molecular level. His recent research is focused on understanding how an estuarine fish (Fundulus heteroclitus) adapted to tolerate PAH-contaminated water at an EPA Superfund site on the Elizabeth River. PAHs are well-characterized teratogens/carcinogens and a population of F. heteroclitus found at the site show an astounding level of tolerance to these compounds. Genetic variants in a number of genes have been identified in this population and experiments are underway to determine the mechanisms by which these genes confer tolerance. In addition, Dr. Schultz has started the Duke Aquafarm, a shellfish aquaculture project where students are able to volunteer to help raise oysters. This project has generated a number of questions and an REU student will certainly have opportunities to engage on work and research at the farm.
Sensory Physiology, Ecology, and Behavior
Dr. Richard Forward conducts research on the physiological ecology of marine invertebrates. Past REU students have done studies on (1) behavioral responses of crab larvae to light and hydrostatic pressure as related to vertical migration and depth regulation (2) circadian rhythm in activity by a supratidal amphipod and the environmental cues (light:dark cycle and daily temperature cycle) that set up the timing of nocturnal activity (3) respiration and osmoregulation of the same amphipod, (4) tidal rhythms in activity by mole crabs and (5) circadian rhythms in egg hatching by estuarine crabs. Six publications by REU students have resulted from these studies. For summer 2022, I anticipate my advisee will continue to study the rhythm in egg hatching by an estuarine crab. As background, eggs are attached to the underside (abdomen) of female crabs and embryos take about 10-14 days to develop. Eggs hatch synchronously at very precise times in the daily light:dark, and temperature cycles. For subtidal crabs, the model is that the female is responsible for the synchronous development of the embryos and setting up the timing (entraining) of the circadian rhythm in egg hatching in the embryos. I would like my REU student to continue these studies next summer looking at (1) the minimum light intensity in the light:dark cycle necessary to entrain the circadian rhythm and (2) the minimum length of the light phase in the light:dark cycle that is necessary for entrainment. The study will involve field work collecting crabs and laboratory studies of the effects of light on the rhythm in egg hatching
Matthew Godfrey is a biologist for the state of North Carolina, and adjunct faculty at the Duke Marine Lab. He coordinates the Sea Turtle Nest Monitoring and Protection Program of North Carolina, which involves >1000 collaborators who patrols all ocean-side beaches for freshly laid sea turtle nests. For the summer of 2022, Dr. Godfrey is looking for an REU student to work on the sea turtle monitoring project at Bear Island (part of Hammocks Beach State Park). Monitoring on Bear Island began in 1975, making it one of the oldest sea turtle projects not only in North Carolina but also along the entire east coast of the US. The student will be involved in night-time monitoring for nesting female loggerheads on Bear Island, including measuring carapace lengths and applying tags. The student will use data collected on the nesting beach in the summer of 2022, plus historical data, to research the relationship between clutch size, female size, and reproductive success, across four decades. Students should have a background in biology and ecology, and experience with Excel. The ferry dock to Bear Island is roughly 25 miles from the Duke Marine Lab, so students working with Dr. Godfrey must have a vehicle for transportation. The REU program reimburses students for travel associated with their project. Students interested in Dr. Godfrey as a research adviser must indicate they will bring a vehicle in their statement.
Dr. Douglas Nowacek’s research focuses on marine bioacoustics, specifically the link between acoustic and motor behavior in marine animals. Sound is a fast and efficient means of exploring and/or communicating in the marine environment, and Nowacek's lab explores numerous aspects of marine bioacoustics. Also, Nowacek works on the development of technology for marine conservation research, e.g., ocean gliders. Opportunities exist in Nowacek’s lab to work on ocean engineering projects, e.g., small scale energy harvesting to power ocean instruments such as whale tags. Through Nowacek’s joint appointment in the Pratt School of Engineering, REU work could involve design, testing, and analysis of various engineering projects. His current research topics include bioacoustics and foraging ecology of Antarctic cetaceans, behavioral ecology of odontocete cetaceans and their responses to acoustic threats, and the effects of ocean noise on marine animals. Nowacek has hosted numerous undergraduate independent study students, and REU students. Research by his REU students has focused on the analysis of bioacoustic data collected from marine mammals around the world. For example the titles for research projects for his past four REU students are (1) Project Finbit: Designing a Cetacean Tag Extension to Collect Pulse and Blood Oxygen Level (2) Identifying signature whistles in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in estuarine North Carolina, (3) Use of social sounds by humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Western Antarctic Peninsula feeding grounds and (4) Passive acoustic monitoring of North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) Cape Hatteras, NC. Students interested in working with Dr. Nowacek should have some knowledge of bioacoustics and computer analysis of large data sets. See his website for more information about research in his laboratory.
Opportunities also exist in Nowacek’s lab to work on ocean engineering projects, e.g., small scale energy harvesting to power ocean instruments such as whale tags. Through Nowacek’s joint appointment in the Pratt School of Engineering, REU work could involve design, testing, and analysis of various engineering projects
Dr. Zackary Johnson. The Johnson Lab broadly studies the abundance, diversity and activity of marine microbes. We are biological oceanographers, marine molecular ecologists, marine microbiologists and biogeochemists. Our research focuses on the marine cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus, the most abundant phytoplankton in the open oceans and an excellent model marine microbe, as well as the biotechnological applications of marine microalgae. Potential REU projects include (1) investigating the community diversity of cyanobacteria as a function of temperature in a coastal ecosystem and (2) characterizing the balance of carbon uptake (photosynthesis) and release (respiration) of coastal phytoplankton both as windows into future climate scenarios. We use a broad array of techniques including classical approaches to advanced molecular procedures, using both laboratory and field-based techniques.
Dr. Andy Read. The Read Lab focuses on the ecology and conservation biology of marine mammals and other mega-vertebrates. We are looking for a student to analyze acoustic and movement data from fine resolution tags attached to short-finned pilot whales. Previous research on this population has shown that pilot whales engage in a range of different diving behaviours. Deep dives have been determined as foraging dives due to acoustics associated with feeding, but the fine-scale characteristics of prey capture attempts across different depths of dives has not been quantified. We would like a student to examine foraging events and quantify bioacoustical and biomechanical behaviours as potential indicators of prey types. Although the student will develop skills in quantitative data analysis methods, knowledge of bioacoustics and computer analysis of large data sets would be beneficial. A working knowledge of Matlab or R is also required. Past Summer REU students in the Read lab have had opportunity to interact with all members of the lab have attended international conferences and published their research in peer-reviewed journals. Students with a background in bioacoustics and movement ecology are particularly encouraged to apply.
Drs. Kathy Reinsel and Jim Welch are faculty at Wittenberg University and conduct research at the Duke University Marine Laboratory each summer and co-advise research by REU students. Their current research focuses on settlement site selection in fiddler crab larvae. Many marine organisms, particularly invertebrates, have a life cycle that includes a larval stage, which often lives in a habitat different from the adult. The larva, or a postlarval stage, therefore needs a mechanism for transporting to and settling into the appropriate adult habitat. Larvae of many species have been shown to use one of two strategies: some larvae have a mechanism to 'choose' appropriate adult habitats; others settle more haphazardly, and only those that happen to settle in appropriate adult habitats survive. REU student projects involve investigations of the settlement site selection process in 3 species of fiddler crabs that live in coastal North Carolina. Since the larvae of these 3 fiddler crabs are morphologically identical, a molecular technique that involves DNA extraction, PCR and gel electrophoresis allows us to identify individual larvae. Specific projects for next summer involve exploring the behaviors that underlie settlement site selection. They could include: (1) determining whether chemical cues from adult conspecifics or habitats in combination with different salinities stimulate larvae to molt into juvenile crabs more quickly; (2) examining rhythms in activity in the three species and whether those rhythms change in the presence of chemical cues from fiddler crab adults of the same or different species, or (3) determining whether larvae are attracted to or repelled by chemical cues from adults of the same or different crab species, or habitat cues. Students interested in marine ecology and invertebrate larval biology should consider Dr. Reinsel and Dr. Welch as advisers.
Dr. Dana Hunt. The Hunt lab conducts research on Marine Microbial Ecology. Bacteria are the most diverse organisms on earth and play a pivotal role in planetary cycling of nutrients and energy. Yet, we have a poor understanding of the factors that drive their diversity and dynamics in the environment. Independent study students in the Hunt Lab use a range of tools from culturing to PCR to learn more about the ecology of marine microbes. Past REU students have assisted with local field work, examined how climate change may alter microbial populations, and identified new types of bacteria from marine organisms. Some background in microbiology or molecular biology is preferred but not required. For more information about the research see Dr. Hunt’s website (http://oceanography.ml.duke.edu/hunt/)
Dr. Brian Silliman. The Silliman lab seeks a student to look at how interactions among species affect threshold and boundaries in coastal systems. Work will specifically be with marshes and manipulating both stressors and food webs to test this idea. (https://sites.nicholas.duke.edu/silliman/overview/)
For additional information:
Dr. Tom Schultz
Funding for this REU site is provided by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences located in Arlington, VA. The NSF contact for this program is Lisa Rom, elrom@NSF.gov or 703-292-7709. NSF does not handle REU applications; please contact each REU site directly for application information.