Scripps Student Spotlight: Nicole Adamson

Undergraduate student examines red blood cell activity in teleost fish

Nicole Adamson is an undergraduate student at the University of California San Diego, with a major in marine biology and an intended minor in Chinese studies. Adamson grew up in Colorado and San Francisco, before moving to San Diego to study with Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She is currently working in the lab of Scripps marine biologist Martín Tresguerres.


explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps?

Nicole Adamson: When I toured Scripps on Triton Day, I got to walk on the pier. It was such a beautiful day with the sun sparkling on the water, and I was also lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins passing by as well. That's when I knew I had to come to UC San Diego and Scripps!


en: What are you researching at Scripps?

NA: I'm working with postdoctoral scholar Till Harter in Martín Tresguerres’ lab to research pH regulation in teleost red blood cells. Teleosts, or bony fishes, experience a wide range of pH fluctuations within their bodies compared to other vertebrates. By taking a look at their mechanisms for handling different pH conditions, including those corresponding to an aquaculture or ocean acificication scenario, we can learn more about potential ways for vertebrates to protect the transport of carbon dioxide and oxygen through their bodies. We look at different ways that the cell can modulate its intracellular environment to affect the binding of hemoglobin to oxygen. There's so much to learn about the ways red blood cells actively facilitate gas transport under different conditions! 


en: How did you become interested in science and your field of study?

NA: My parents were spacecraft engineers, which gave me a taste for exploring the unknown. I felt that marine biology would allow me to explore a great unknown on our planet: the ocean. I've enjoyed getting some experience with a variety of subfields of marine biology, and over time, I've also developed an interest in conservation.

Before I started researching fish blood cells, I didn't realize it was a current area of study. It's super interesting! For any undergrads looking for research opportunities, there's so much out there. Keep an open mind—you never know what you may find!


en: What’s life like as a Scripps student? Describe a typical day.

NA: I haven't quite experienced daily life as a Scripps student, since I've been volunteering virtually so far. But I'm excited to find out this year, and dig into work in the lab. During the 2020-2021 year, I was participating in lab meetings and reading literature remotely. Since the beginning of this academic year, I have been taking classes in person. I have also begun to volunteer in the lab in person and familiarize myself with the equipment and procedures I had previously only heard and read about.


en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work (in the field or in the lab)?

NA: I really enjoy giving presentations. To me, the most important part about science is communicating it with others, and it's really interesting to be able to discuss an experiment, whether that's in lab meetings or conferences hosted at UC San Diego.


en: Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way?

NA: Martín Tresguerres and Till Harter have been amazing mentors! Despite being a virtual member of the lab up until this point, I've still felt very included and supported. They always make time for a chat over Zoom to discuss results or a recent paper. Last fall, I also had the opportunity to travel to Bermuda to research corals during a National Science Foundation Research Opportunity for Undergraduates (NSF-REU). My mentor there, Yvonne Sawall, taught me so much about field work, analyzing data, and putting together presentations.


en: What are some of the challenges you face as a student?

NA: I've recently experienced the loss of a very close family member. Grief is not a topic people tend to discuss much in public, but almost everyone experiences it at some point in their lives. Moving on and readjusting to life at school can be a bumpy road, but I'm grateful to have the support of those around me.


en: What are your plans post-Scripps?

NA: I am still exploring my options after undergrad. The potential to continue research interests me, but I am also looking into career options related to marine policy and environmental law.

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