By: Shannon E Matzke
For the past year, I have been telling friends and family that I would be spending the summer in California – long before I had been accepted into the Wrigley Institute’s REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program. Coming from South Louisiana and never having been farther west than Houston, a summer on the west coast was an absolute dream. Fortunately, I was accepted into the Wrigley Institute’s REU program, and my dream became a reality.
I have been in California for about a month now, and I have learned more than I could have imagined. I have not only become educated about my own specific field of study, but have also learned about other REU projects, the natural world of Catalina, and the research process in general. My project is to study nitrogen fixation rates associated with Sargassum horneri, a macroalga that has invaded the California coastline. The research that I conduct this summer will be a piece of a larger puzzle – last summer’s REU student conducted a similar study, and Yubin, my graduate student mentor, will continue this work as part of his graduate thesis. This means that I was able to hit the ground running with research as soon as I arrived in California.
We began our lab work on the first day that we reached the island, so the past few weeks have definitely been lab-intensive, and we have already collected plenty of data to process and analyze. Yubin and I are joined in the lab by Camille, a chemistry major from Brazil who has become an honorary REU student. The three of us tackle a hefty load of lab work, including taking measurements 7 days a week and sometimes in the middle of the night. This has shed light on what the life of a grad student is like, and it has also shown me the benefits of having research partners. Working together, the three of us have been able to complete multiple experiments already in this first half of the summer, and I know that we will have a wonderful sense of accomplishment when the summer ends and we have an abundance of data that helps to answer our research questions.
This summer has been eye-opening in more ways than just research. The REU group consists of people from all over the country (and outside of the country, in the case of Camille), and we have enjoyed learning about the customs of different areas. I ask Camille about Brazil daily and have been asked more than once about alligators and voodoo in Louisiana. We have become great friends and have enjoyed exploring the island together. There are some great hikes to do right around Wrigley, and it always feels amazing to jump in the ocean afterwards. I will never cease to be amazed that we live a mere few feet from the Pacific Ocean, and I plan to take advantage of that as much as possible.
We are currently halfway through the program, and I have already made so many memories. There are a few specific things that I am looking forward to as the summer continues to progress – a backpacking trip and analyzing results from my research – but I hope that this time passes at a leisurely pace. There is still much more research to be done, more island to explore, and great people to spend time with. I am immensely grateful for having been chosen to participate in this rewarding and unique experience, and I plan to make the second half of it as memorable as the first.
Shannon is from Louisiana State University, Class of 2017. Her summer project collaborates with Grad student Yubin Raut and USC Professor of Biological Sciences Doug Capone on “Investigations of nitrogen fixation on Sargassum horneri and Macrosystis pyrifera.”