SURF Program 2016: Student Profiles

Twenty-two ambitious college students from across the United States spent their time in labs and in the field conducting research in Earth, ocean, and atmospheric sciences as part of the Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

SURF is a ten-week summer research experience for undergraduates (REU) that engages students in cutting-edge scientific research alongside a scientist mentor, helping them prepare for graduate school and careers in science.

View a photo gallery for the 2016 Scripps SURF program here.

Learn about the exciting research conducted by the SURF program participants in 2016:

  • Zandria Acosta is a senior at the University of the Virgin Islands where she is studying computational biology. She hopes to develop new solutions to ocean problems by immersing herself in interdisciplinary research involving both science and technology. During the SURF program, Acosta was placed in the lab of Lisa Levin, distinguished professor at Scripps, and worked under the guidance of graduate student Jennifer Le. Acosta researched ecosystem service-based strategies for optimizing natural treatment of stormwater in Southern California. Ultimately, she hopes to compare the efficiency of natural treatment systems relative to their community compositions of fauna and flora. The research experience gained through this program is helping Acosta pursue her dream of receiving a doctorate and supporting her interest in promoting a cleaner environment for developing nations.
  • Carlos Anguiano is a senior at UC San Diego where he’s studying Earth science with a minor in physics. Anguiano’s passion for science began at a young age, as he grew up in a rural area where most of his time was spent exploring the outdoors and learning about the environment. His curiosity towards the “bowels of the earth,” combined with its unique magnetic field, led him to conduct research under Lisa Tauxe, a distinguished professor of geophysics at Scripps. During the SURF program, Anguiano worked in the Paleomagnetics Laboratory researching the ancient geomagnetic field. He worked on an archaeomagnetism project where he used archaeological pottery sherds from different sites in Armenia to determine the intensity of Earth’s magnetic field during the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. These potsherds contain iron-bearing minerals that are able to record the intensity of Earth’s magnetic field during the time when they were created. Importantly, these potsherds are valuable because they come from a region that lacks intensity data of Earth’s field over the past millennia. New data compilations are critical in improving field models, which are essential in studying the geomagnetic field. “My favorite part about the SURF experience was having the opportunity to learn and interact with others about their research interests and goals,” said Anguiano. Upon graduating, he plans to attend graduate school in hopes of contributing to the understanding of Earth’s magnetic field.
  • Lauren Arnold is a junior at the University of the Virgin Islands, where she is studying marine biology. During the SURF program, Arnold worked with Scripps Assistant Professor Brice Semmens and graduate student Brian Stock on studying Nassau grouper and analyzing plankton samples taken from spawning events. Arnold sorted out all the Nassau grouper eggs from each sample, measured their diameters, and created a plot of the length distribution. Her favorite part of SURF was seeing the wide range of research that everyone does at Scripps. “It has been such an honor to work and do research at such a prestigious institution,” said Arnold. Her future goals include researching white shark mating behavior, helping to regulate shark finning, and going to space!
  • Lennon Bruney is a junior in Marine Biology at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas Campus. During the SURF program, Bruney worked in the lab of Scripps Assistant Professor Stuart Sandin, where he monitored the growth, decline, fission, and fusion of corals through a time series of pictures taken from the Caribbean Island of Curacao between 2009 and 2013. Researchers can answer a number of questions about corals by analyzing this information, and Bruney specifically researched whether growing in a colony enabled individual coral polyps to have an increased growth rate and increased life expectancy. “My favorite part of the program was meeting different people including SURF members, grad students, volunteers, and other lab researchers, as well as listening to their stories and gaining motivation from their experiences,” said Bruney. He plans to continue a similar study back at his home university and hopes to return to Scripps Oceanography/UC San Diego or another UC campus for graduate school in the near future.
  • Anya Byrd is a junior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, majoring in biology and minoring in music and Japanese. Her passion for ocean science and drive to get more exposure in the field led her to the SURF program. Over the summer, she worked with Scripps Assistant Professor Jennifer Taylor to study the adaptations for tree climbing in the mangrove crab Aratus pisonii. Their goal was to compare the morphology and climbing kinematics of the mangrove crab with that of an intertidal crab, Pachygrapsus crassipes, to better understand the biomechanical traits important for an arboreal lifestyle. Byrd said she loved everything about her SURF program experience, from the lab work to the surfing lessons, and that this experience will help her “tremendously” as she prepares for the future. “ My goal is to earn a PhD in marine sciences, and my experience in the SURF program at Scripps has opened many doors and fostered many lasting connections,” she said.
  • Xochitl Clare is a student at the University of California,Santa Cruz (UCSC) where she is pursuing a double major in marine biology and theater arts. Clare has experience studying salmon, rockfish, and deep-sea fishes of the Pacific Ocean and has participated in several research projects focused on ocean acidification at the UCSC Institute of Marine Sciences. During the 2016 SURF program, Clare worked in the laboratory of Scripps researcher Dimitri Deheyn and in collaboration with Scripps Assistant Professor Jennifer Taylor, both in the Marine Biology Research Division. Clare studied the effects of ocean acidification on the nervous systems of invertebrates, using bioluminescence from the dwarf brittlestars as a functional model. Brittlestars share neuropathway characteristics with higher organisms such as humans and fish, so this research will provide insight on how chemical changes related to ocean acidification could impact a wide range of organisms in the marine environment. Clare enjoyed being surrounded by scientists of such diverse research backgrounds and noted that the SURF program has been “an incredible step” in her career in marine biology research. She aspires to make the marine world more accessible to the public and wider scientific communities through innovative communication of her work.
  • Brian Cohn is a senior at California State University, Long Beach, where he is majoring in marine biology. The SURF program provided the perfect opportunity for Cohn to explore his growing interest in the field of fisheries biology and conservation in the lab of Scripps Assistant Professor Brice Semmens. Cohn used images from a Nassau grouper spawning aggregation and mark-recapture methods to estimate the population size through time. He also measured fish lengths in the images using the laser caliper marks and imaging software. Cohn was eager to learn new statistical methods and programming that will be of great use in future research endeavors. Cohn said the SURF program was a great way to meet and network with fellow early-career scientists and faculty members. “My participation in SURF will no doubt serve as excellent experience as I plan to pursue graduate-level studies in marine biology,” said Cohn. 
  • Gizelle Crisostomo is a fourth year student at the University of California Santa Barbara where she is majoring in environmental studies. Through the SURF program, Crisostomo had the opportunity to work on a project studying the migration of fishers in the Philippines with Tara Whitty, a postdoctoral fellow at Scripps working in the lab of Scripps researcher Octavio Aburto. Crisostomo's favorite part of the summer was meeting the diverse group of students and staff at Scripps and learning more about the various research projects across campus. “Every day I looked forward to working in the lab to gain more knowledge about the fishers community as it ties me back to my childhood in the Philippines,” said Crisostomo. “Projects like this spark my interest in science because it is my way of giving back to my community, especially to my home country.” She plans to attend graduate school and possibly conduct a similar project about small-scale fisheries.
  • Kelly Devlin is a junior at Temple University, where she majors in physics with minors in geology and mathematics. A passion and curiosity for Earth science led Devlin to apply to the SURF program, in which she was matched with Adrian Borsa, a Scripps geophysicist specializing in geodesy. In the lab, Devlin used a remote sensing technique called InSAR to investigate anthropogenic effects on crustal deformation, primarily natural gas drilling in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. By using InSAR, Devlin was able to detect subsidence due to human activity. When not in the lab, she enjoyed exploring the natural beauty of San Diego through hiking and aquatic sports. Devlin plans to continue to study Earth sciences by earning a PhD, and she's certain that the valuable skills learned in the SURF program will come in handy.
  • Erica Ferrer is a senior at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she majors in marine biology with a minor in chemistry. During the SURF program, she was placed under the mentorship of Scripps research oceanographer Tony Koslow and she studied the temporal changes of ichthyoplankton (fish larvae) communities off the coast of Baja California. This study took place within the context of a much larger effort to monitor ichthyoplankton abundances, which reflect the abundance of the adult fishes across the California Current System (CCS) conducted by the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI). The research team, along with collaborators in Mexico, are very excited to see what the data hold, as they suspect climate change and climate cycles influence Baja’s fishes and, thereby, the human communities who fish them. “This work ties in nicely with the research I hope to pursue in grad school, as I would like to study the link between marine ecosystem health and human subsistence in a rapidly changing world,” said Ferrer. “The SURF program has helped me solidify this interest, and I am so grateful for the support and enthusiasm afforded to me by my peers and mentors!”
  • Odalys M. García Ortiz is currently finishing her fourth year at La Universidad Metropolitana, Cupey, Puerto Rico, where she is majoring in biology. During her stay in the SURF program, García resided in the Marine Bioacoustics Lab of Scripps researcher Ana Širović, where she analyzed fin whale 20 Hz song patterns recorded off the Southern California Bight. García investigated if there was any variability in songs closer and farther from shore and then compared them with the analyzed data from previous years to see if the songs have changed over time. She said the most interesting part of this program was acquiring knowledge about different whale songs, specifically that of fin and blue whales. Her future plans consist of completing her bachelor’s degree, searching for more scientific research opportunities, and following the footsteps of distinguished oceanographer Antonio Mignucci-Giannoni, whom she greatly admires.
  • Molly James is a fourth year student at Vassar College where she’s studying physics. She was drawn to the SURF program because she wanted to experience research at a large university and learn about fields in which she can apply physics. Over the summer, James had the honor of working with Dave Stegman, associate professor of geophysics at Scripps. She engaged with numerical modeling using a supercomputer to understand plate tectonics at subduction zones. These models help illuminate the fundamental physics of subduction, which can offer explanation of the differences between plate tectonics on Earth and other planets in the solar system. Throughout the program, she most enjoyed the mentorship she received from graduate students and professors. Molly plans to continue studying the natural sciences in graduate school by pursuing a PhD.
  • Samuel “Sam” Kekuewa is a fourth year student at UC San Diego, where he’s majoring in Earth science with a focus on oceanography and a minor in marine science. Jennifer Haase, associate researcher at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps, mentored Kekuewa during the SURF program. Kekuewa studied the detection of precipitable water vapor, or PWV, by installations of geodetic modules and comparing the recorded data with models. This study led to an increase in sites for installations of the geodetic modules and increased the amount of coverage we have to detect surges of PWV. Kekuewa’s favorite part of the SURF program was improving his understanding of computer languages and learning about other research projects on campus. He plans to go to graduate school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to study oceanography and learn more about his heritage. Ultimately, he hopes to become a professor or researcher—either at Scripps Oceanography or the University of Hawaii.
  • Meagan Marciano is a third year chemistry student at Norfolk State University. This summer, Marciano worked under the guidance of Vicki Grassian, professor at Scripps and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UC San Diego, and was further supervised by postdoctoral fellow Armando Estillore and graduate student Jonathan Trueblood. Marciano spent the summer analyzing the chemical composition and the hygroscopicity of sea spray aerosol. These studies were done using a combination of state-of-the-art instrumentation including micro-Raman Spectroscopy and a Hygroscopic Tandem Differential Mobility Analyzer (HTDMA). “My favorite part of the SURF program was being given the opportunity to work with a vast amount of talented and knowledgeable chemists focused on atmospheric science as well as being part of a collaborative summer experiment within the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE),” said Marciano. The SURF program exposed Marciano to a variety of potential careers and further sparked her interest in attending graduate school in the future.
  • Micah Mills is a biology major in her junior year at Green Mountain College in Vermont. Her particular interests in biology involve paleontology, marine science, and human genetics. At Scripps, she worked in the Marine Biology Research Division under the direction of Scripps Professor Douglas Bartlett and graduate student Logan Peoples. Mills worked in the general area of marine microbiology, and more specifically in deep-sea high-pressure microbiology. The goal of her research was to test several hypotheses concerning the properties of deep-sea microbes and the role of certain factors in enhancing growth under deep-sea, high-pressure conditions. After graduating from college, Mills plans to work for a couple years in marine science, paleontology, or human genetics, after which she intends to seek admission in graduate school to pursue advanced research in one of these fields. “I am extremely appreciative of the opportunity to be involved in SURF, as the work I am engaged in at Scripps is pertinent to my academic and personal interests,” said Mills.
  • Onyeweenu Ogene is a senior student at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers where she’s majoring in environmental studies and minoring in climate change and biology. Ogene’s love for marine science began at an early age since she grew up exploring Miami and Florida's beautiful coast. This summer, Ogene worked in the lab of Scripps Distinguished Professor Lisa Levin under the mentorship of graduate student Jennifer Le, who is researching how deep-ocean habitats provide value and benefit to society. For her SURF project, Ogene critically analyzed videos of ROV dives from the previous summer, conducted off the coast of California. The overall goal of this research is to observe fauna and benthic substrates over changing recorded environmental factors like dissolved oxygen levels. After graduating, Ogene plans to attend graduate school where she will focus on marine conservation and policy implementation.
  • Neha Prasad is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis where she’s pursuing a major in chemistry. She became involved in natural products research during her sophomore year when she spent time working with plant-associated bacteria. Excited by the microbial diversity in the ocean’s ecosystems and the potential for discovering secondary metabolites with therapeutic properties, Prasad applied to the SURF program at Scripps. Here, she worked under the guidance of Scripps Professor Paul Jensen and graduate student/mentor Alyssa Demko. In the lab, Prasad investigated the induction of secondary metabolite biosynthesis in the genus Salinispora through co-culture assays. By cultivating these marine bacteria in the presence of other bacteria it may naturally encounter, the co-culture technique may induce the production of novel molecules by Salinispora. Inspired by all that she learned this summer, Prasad plans to apply to graduate school to pursue a PhD in natural products research.
  • Nicolas Santiago is a third year student studying Physics at Depaul University. His interest in magnetic fields led him to apply to the SURF program, where he was placed in lab of Lisa Tauxe, distinguished professor of geophysics at Scripps. In the lab, Santiago studied paleomagnetism—the study of the record of the Earth's magnetic field—using samples from ancient Chinese pottery collected in Xi’an, China. In the future, Santiago plans to pursue a PhD and to continue researching paleomagnetism or other research with magnetic fields.
  • Francisco Spaulding, a fourth year student at the University of Chicago, is majoring in geophysical sciences and minoring in creative writing. His academic curiosities in fluid dynamics and physical oceanography led him to apply to the SURF program. Under the guidance of Scripps researchers Ivana Cerovecki and Matthew Mazloff, Spaulding investigated the role of polynyas in ice export from the Ross Sea and developed criteria for polynya identification from the Southern Ocean State Estimate. Recent data has shown that approximately 10% of sea ice in the Southern Ocean is produced by the major coastal polynyas, a disproportionally large amount since their total surface area is equivalent to 1% of the maximum winter sea ice coverage. Moreover, in the last few years, the Ross Sea has experienced a strong regional increase in sea ice extent in tandem with a trend of freshening and cooling in the Eastern Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean, so it is particularly important to understand the variability of sea ice output from these coastal ice factories. Spaulding’s favorite part of the SURF program was collaborating with a number of ocean scientists on an exciting research project. He also enjoyed learning two new computer languages and how to surf. In the future, Spaulding plans to pursue graduate studies in climate dynamics.
  • Phoebe Thompson is a junior majoring in Earth and oceanographic science at Bowdoin College in Maine. Her love of the ocean and interest in biogeochemistry led her to apply to the SURF program, through which she had the opportunity to work under Scripps professors Lynne Talley and Sarah Gille as a part of the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) project. With the guidance of postdoctoral researcher Isa Rosso, research professional Matt Mazloff, and other members of the SOCCOM team, Phoebe worked with both model and float data to determine the seasonal cycle of macronutrients (namely nitrate) and net community production in the Southern Ocean. Her favorite part of the SURF program was being surrounded by people with a passion for understanding the ocean and its mysteries. Thanks to the mentorship provided at Scripps, Thompson plans to continue similar research in graduate school with the goal of obtaining a PhD.
  • Jessica Whiteaker attends Southern Illinois University in Carbondale where she is a third year geology major with a focus in geophysics and a minor in mathematics. Whiteaker’s interest in exploring new fields led her to the SURF program, where she worked in the lab of Scripps Professor Falk Feddersen and studied near-shore physical oceanography. Her summer project, titled "Fall Temperature Evolution in La Jolla Bight," utilized observed and numerical ocean circulation model data to understand the changes in the water column during the fall to winter transition. Whiteaker learned the process of data analysis through the cleaning and transformation of data via MATLAB in order to find trends in the ocean temperature. Whiteaker said she enjoyed being exposed to MATLAB, studying the exciting field of near-surface physical oceanography, and working on the beach. In the future, she plans to attend graduate school to study seismology.
  • Alexis “Lexie” Wilson is a fourth year physics student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Her love for math and physics has allowed her to be successful in many fields, but an interest in the environment drove her to apply her skills in the arena of climate change. Working with Scripps research physicist Dan Lubin, Wilson studied the surface energy balance over the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. By analyzing a large amount of data taken at the ice sheet to create realistic climate models, Wilson sought to understand how Antarctic clouds influence melting events in southern polar regions. She found the research environment at Scripps to be positive and encouraging and said she enjoyed the ocean view from her office! Wilson hopes that her experience with the SURF program will guide her as she navigates through graduate school and a career in science.

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.