Monthly Archives: August 2016

Finishing the summer research season

USC Wrigley Institute

By: David Varisco

I can’t believe it’s week 9 and I’m most of the way through my Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) experience. Even today it still feels like we only just got here. The first week at USC was spent getting oriented to the program, meeting our mentors, and most importantly getting to know the other REUs. At one point or another I’ve heard each person mention the same thing. Everyone was worried about who the other REUs would be and whether we would all get along. Honestly I’m not sure things could have turned out much better.


REU cohort, 2016

During the first week everyone just clicked and we have all gotten along so well, it’s made the experience that much more enjoyable. Paul and Nolan are from the Los Angeles area and they spent the first week taking us to a bunch of great places around LA. We went to Griffith Park at night, we saw Santa Monica Pier, we went to downtown LA to see the art walk, and made a couple trips to In and Out for dinner (easily the best fast food hamburgers in the world).

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LA adventures: First trip to In and Out, and the LA Art Walk

Once our first week was over everyone was ready to get to the island. The boat ride over did not disappoint as more than a couple pods of dolphins swam along with the boat and one of them just about jumped aboard the Miss Christi it was so excited for our arrival. We are treated so well here at the Wrigley Center. The staff have taken us out on some really cool snorkeling and kayaking trips, the lab staff are super helpful, and the food is so good. I will be so sad to go back home and cook for myself again.

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Big Fisherman Cove here at the Wrigley Marine Science Center.

Ok so, I’ve made it about 2 paragraphs, and I have yet to mention my research project. That’s how much fun we’ve been having here. I am working with Dr. Daniel Campo and grad student Hamdi Kitapchi on a project to describe the ecology of Pollicipes polymerus, commonly known as a gooseneck barnacle, here on Catalina Island. My project involves a large amount of fieldwork where we go out and study the habitat the goosenecks live in and look at the community of species that they live with. During the four weeks I’ve been here we’ve made trips to Little Harbor, Parson’s Landing, and Ship Rock, all very interesting spots on Catalina. During our first trip to Little Harbor we saw a large herd of bison which everyone was really excited about and I did my first real work in the field. Each trip has been a lot of fun and every time out it feels like we learn something new.

Another part of my project deals with trying to describe how wave motion affects certain characteristics of gooseneck barnacles. We are using plaster of paris cubes placed in specific parts of the intertidal zones next to the barnacles we are studying. We compare how much plaster dissolves over time to a control that sits in still water and gives us a way to quantify differences in wave motion between each site. It’s a very elegant and inexpensive way to obtain this type of information, and I can’t wait to see how they turn out.

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Wave motion setup – far left is the temperature sensor, and the white plaster cubes are on the right. Gooseneck barnacles are at the top of the rock.

Now we are thinking about wrapping up our projects and preparing for the end. I still don’t want to think about that too much, the experience has been that good. I have learned so much and met some amazing people. I will certainly be sad to get on the Miss Christi again and leave the island.

David joins the REU program from the University of Maryland-College Park, where he is specializing in Biology-Ecology and Evolution (Class of 2017).

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Summer Research and Island Life

USC Wrigley Institute

By: Paul Solis

When I first started the USC Wrigley Institute’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, I didn’t really know what to expect. I researched former REU students and every page of the Wrigley Institute website for information, but text and pages on websites don’t compare to all that I’ve experienced so far in the REU program.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. Karla Heidelberg, USC Environmental Studies Program Director, all summer. Our first week at USC (in Los Angeles) taught me more about my project, which is to characterize Tardigrades (aka ‘water bears’) around Catalina Island, potentially describing a novel species using morphological and DNA analyses. We immediately went on sampling trips to Palos Verdes and spent time on the microscope, learning methods and getting prepared for the rest of the summer on Catalina.


Photo of a Tardigrade from Little Harbor, Catalina Island. Photo Credit: Paul Solis

While looking at samples during the first week, Dr. William Miller and Dr. Emma Perry, both experts in Tardigrade ecology, helped develop the research project. The amount of learning and successful field investigations during the first week were definite confidence boosters. Going from never seeing a Tardigrade under the microscope to being able to spot them out of the corner of my eye is just one skill I picked up during the first week. Then, we finally set out for Catalina Island.

Since getting here, I have spent many hours on the microscope, and have become so familiar with tardigrades that the other REUs call me “Tardipaul”. We’ve even come up with sketches of a potential Tardigrade ‘onesie’. Every week has been filled with learning new skills, including learning how to get crystal clear images on the microscope and extract and amplify DNA. Field work is also a big part of my project, and every sampling trip on Catalina has been a treat for 2 reasons. Reason 1: I get to take off the lab coat for a while and get a tan. Reason 2: I’m able to explore different parts of the island like Little Harbor, Shark Harbor, and Cherry Cove.


Dr. Karla Heidelberg and Paul Solis (me) sampling for moss at Chery Cove

Despite being able to see Catalina’s silhouette off the coast of Southern California all of my life, I had never seen the island up close, let alone stepped foot on the island. My first impression of the island was absolutely breathtaking. You can’t quite appreciate the beauty of Catalina unless you witness the place in person. The USC Wrigley Marine Science Center is the cherry on top. Within the first 10 minutes on the island, I already felt right at home. The dorms are cozy, the surrounding nature is beautiful, and the food is second to none. With being this comfortable at the research center, working everyday definitely does not feel like a chore.


REUs at Two Harbors on Catalina

Although it may seem like we are all hermits in the lab sometimes, we still have a boatload of fun during our free time. From spending hours trying to figure out who is the best at billiards, to snorkeling in the marine reserve, to spending a day at two harbors, we find ways to have fun. We’ve also been on some day trips around the island, like our 4th of July trip to Avalon and camping at Parson’s Landing. Despite hanging out with each other for countless hours a day for about 8 weeks now, it’ll be hard for all of us to leave this place at the end of the summer.


Paul Solis (me) on top of Mt. Wrigley at sunset

Paul comes to the WIES REU program from Cal State University Dominguez Hills, where he is completing his undergraduate degree in Earth Science (Class of 2017).

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