Scripps and CSIRO Launch Kennel-Haymet Graduate Student Travel Fellowship


Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego's previous and current directors, Charles Kennel and Tony Haymet, have been honored with the launch of an innovative student exchange program with Australia.

Nick Wegner, a graduate student working in Scripps research physiologist Jeff Graham's laboratory, is the first recipient of the Kennel-Haymet Graduate Student Travel Fellowship, a new program designed to exchange students between Scripps Oceanography and its long-term partner in marine and atmospheric research, Australia's CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation).

An anonymous donor has funded the fellowship to Australia for three years. CSIRO has funded reciprocal fellowships to Scripps' La Jolla campus. The fellowship was created by Scripps to celebrate the leadership of former director Charles Kennel, who oversaw a graduate student population increase from 180 to 250, and CSIRO to honor former CSIRO Chief Tony Haymet, who established joint Ph.D. programs with the University of Tasmania. As a measure of the closeness of the institutions, Haymet's predecessor in Hobart, Dr. Nan Bray, was lured from Scripps to lead CSIRO.

During his two-week tour of Australian museums and oceanographic organizations, Wegner advanced his studies of fish gill ventilation systems and related structural features in continuously swimming fish species, including tunas, mackerels and marlins. Such fish rely upon unique structural adaptations that allow fast, continuous water flow through gills for efficient, sustained aerobic swimming. While details of these features are known in certain fish species, others remain a mystery.

Wegner described Australia as an "ideal" location to examine preserved specimens critical to his investigations and to collect fresh tissue samples from species in that region. One species, for example, the Papuan seerfish (Scomberomorus multiradiatus), is exclusively found off New Guinea and was only identified 25 years ago. Wegner presented the details of his work during a seminar in Australia and on May 7 at Scripps.

"Nick gave a fantastic seminar on 'high-performance' fish. He grabbed an opportunity and took it far beyond what we hoped for," Haymet said.

Wegner's Australian tour included CSIRO's Marine HQ in Hobart, which houses Australia's National Fish Collection; Cairns, to work with local fishermen for specimen collection; Sydney, to visit the Australian Museum Fish Collection; and Brisbane, to work with researchers at CSIRO's Cleveland laboratory and the University of Queensland.

"The close historical relationship between the directors of CSIRO and Scripps now becomes one between students that can last for their lifetimes. This gives me great satisfaction," said Kennel.

Wegner considered the trip a huge success, as he has now collected gill tissue from fish genera key to his doctoral research. The new samples give him fresh resources to further study questions related to the acquisition and evolution of unique gill structures.

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