Around the Pier: Scripps Chateaubriand STEM Fellows Explore France


One can only dream of working steps from a beach on the French Riviera, snacking on freshly baked baguettes, or taking a short weekend drive to another country. Samuel Wilson and Marion Alberty, both Ph.D. students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, no longer have to imagine. Vive la France!

Wilson and Alberty have both been awarded the Chateaubriand STEM Fellowship, an opportunity from the Embassy of France that sends U.S. doctorate students to conduct research in France. The Chateaubriand STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Fellowship is a unifying research experience, creating collaborations and partnerships between the two countries.

Wilson began his fellowship at Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche this past July. This opportunity is not only giving Wilson experience at a leading institution in the ocean colour community (ocean colour satellites measure phytoplankton in certain locations of the ocean), but is also fully enriching his thesis in order to earn his Ph.D. in physical oceanography from Scripps.

For Wilson, he knew from the start this opportunity was world class.

“The opportunity to join this community seemed like a dream until the Chateaubriand Fellowship presented itself,” said Wilson.

“This is the lab of André Morel, one of the pioneers of modern optical oceanography. This is the lab of Bio-Argo, a biological and optical continuation of the Scripps Argo Program. This is the lab of BOUSSOLE, one of only two current moorings specializing in vicarious calibration of satellite sensors. The research here has been a huge part of my thesis work,” he explained.

This partnership is proof that Scripps prepares its students with the highest level of competency in the oceanographic field.

“As for the academics, Scripps has done an amazing job preparing me,” said Wilson. “I have learned how to find what I don't understand, isolate what I don't understand about it, and find a solution. This continues to be useful as I approach my work here in Villefranche.”

Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche has countless research opportunities for Wilson, but the best part of traveling to this institution is its familiarity to Scripps. From its cutting-edge research with an oceanfront location, to a loving academic community, Wilson is finding himself right at home.

“I have already caught waves near Hossegor, witnessed the sunrise in the Pyrenees, swam at lunch in the Mediterranean, finished a bucket of French shellfish, learned some differences between the wine regions of France, fallen asleep on the beach in Spain, finished 15 jars of jam, driven a road which rivals Highway 1, camped near a castle, and traveled the Riviera by train,” he said.

Wilson has always been an outdoorsman and that’s what drew him to science in the first place. Growing up in Cayucos on California’s Central Coast, he vividly remembers running through the sand dunes with his father, igniting his passion for the ocean and environments around it.

Taking part in Scripps’s Marine Physical Laboratory Internship Program back in 2008, Wilson got a taste of ocean science and Scripps itself.

Wilson found a way to turn his passions into research with accomplishments from research conducted at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Theiss Research Zanzibar Project (a U.S. based partnership with Tanzania to help address and fix coastal issues of the Zanzibar Channel), and a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2011.

His research continued in the lab of Scripps researcher Uwe Send, working on a radiative transfer model to measure chlorophyl concentrations from moored measurements of irradiance. Through the measurements of two moorings off California’s coastline, Wilson’s thesis will broach the topic of trying to quantify chlorophyll bloom development and transport.

Wilson’s passion to protect the ocean doesn’t stop at research. Since 2011, he has been a coordinator for the Scripps Community Outreach Program for Education (SCOPE). Through this program, the community is able to learn about the research conducted at Scripps. Last year, SCOPE reached 1,900 students and adults through 76 organized events, all targeted to spread the word of Scripps’s cutting-edge research, and the positive influence it has on the earth.

Through the Chateaubriand Fellowship, Wilson will not only take away a better understanding of research in his field, but also experience the French culture, giving him even more tools to educate the community around him.

 “The 21st century will face many issues, not the smallest of which is climate change,” said Wilson. “I hope to make contributions which educate the public about ocean science and potentially lessen the climate issues we are facing.”

Scripps Ph.D. student Marion Alberty, currently working under Scripps researchers Janet Sprintall and Jennifer MacKinnon, also received the Chateaubriand Fellowship, although her program doesn’t start until early 2015. She will be attending a different French university than Wilson, Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement, where she will continue her research in physics.

With its logic and intuition, physics was a natural draw to Alberty. She began studying fluid mechanics, which lead her to conduct observational studies of physical processes in Cayuga Lake in Upstate New York. Being a lover of the ocean, Alberty’s natural next step was to look toward research in the oceanographic field, which led her to Scripps.

Alberty has already been in collaboration with Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement, as well as other institutions, for her thesis research. French researcher Alexandre Ganachaud encouraged Alberty to apply for the fellowship to help her continue and deepen her research.

“I am studying mixing and circulation in the Solomon Sea using shipboard and mooring-based measurements,” said Alberty. “During my time in France, I would like to finish the research that will be the focus on the second chapter of my thesis.”

38 students from throughout the U.S. received Chateaubriand Fellowships this year. In addition to receiving an enriching research opportunity in France for up to 10 months, Chateaubriand fellows receive a stipend, a round-trip airline ticket to France, and health insurance.

The announcement of Wilson and Alberty’s awards can be read here:

For more information on the fellowship, please visit:

- Mia Mendola is a public relations intern for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography communications office and a graduate from the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo journalism department.

Related Image Gallery: Scripps Chateaubriand STEM Fellows Explore France

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.