SURF Program 2020: Student Profiles

This summer a group of bright, ambitious, and talented college students were selected to participate in the Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF program) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. SURF is a ten-week fellowship program where select undergraduates have the opportunity to conduct innovative research alongside a scientist mentor while gaining important insight into graduate school and future careers in science. Due to COVID-19, the SURF program was mostly operated remotely in 2020. Read about efforts to continue this important research program during the pandemic, the addition of a new “Pop-Up REU,” and more in this article.


Learn about some of the 2020 SURF participants and their individual research projects below:


Abegail Bigasin is a senior at the University of California San Diego, majoring in biology: ecology, behavior, and evolution with interests in bioinformatics and understanding the processes by which traits evolve in species. This past summer, Bigasin worked in Assistant Professor Deirdre Lyons' lab under Jessica Goodheart, doing a transcriptomic analysis of Berghia stephanieae (a type of sea slug) studying how these animals can sequester nematocysts (a specialized cell in the tentacles of a jellyfish), an organelle unique to species of the phylum Cnidaria. By doing a differential gene expression analysis of two tissue types in B. stephanieae and creating a pipeline for the data, they discovered a multitude of differentially expressed genes that would be interesting to look at in the future. Overall, the SURF program helped develop Bigasin's interest in developmental and evolutionary biology and honed many skills needed to pursue a career in the field in the future.


Kelly Bishop is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, studying mathematical sciences and psychological and brain sciences. Bishop became interested in Scripps' research programs when discovering the extensive overlap between mathematics, cognitive science, and ocean sciences. Additionally, she considers herself an environmentalist, so applying to an environmentally-focused lab seemed like a perfect fit. This past summer at Scripps, she worked in the Acoustic Ecology Lab under the mentorship of Simone Baumann-Pickering and Annebelle Kok. Bishop's project focused on marine acoustics monitoring. She spent her time logging and analyzing Bocaccio rockfish communication patterns in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Acoustic monitoring is a critically important tool because it allows researchers to observe fish behavior and signaling tendencies without relying on visual techniques, and it aids in fish localization, an integral part of conservation efforts. In the future, Bishop hopes to find her niche as a public speaker, helping to connect the general population with information on the latest scientific research.


Rain Blankenship is a senior at the University of California San Diego, majoring in oceanic and atmospheric sciences. His interests include geochemistry, marine chemistry, glaciology, and climate science. Over the summer, Blankenship worked in the lab of Assistant Professor Sarah Aarons, focusing on characterizing the dust deposition to Southern California's San Jacinto Mountains. In Aarons' lab, Blankenship participated in fieldwork that involved collecting dust samples from the collectors placed along the San Jacinto Peak. Over the summer, Blankenship also worked on characterizing the trends in air and possibly the aeolian (relating to or arising from the action of the wind) dust reaching the dust collector sites. He utilized the web-based version of NOAA's HYSPLIT to create backward air parcel trajectories of the air reaching the dust collector sites. These models were then used to identify possible local sources of dust in the surrounding area, including natural and anthropogenic disturbances in terrestrial features such as dry lake beds, farms, and open-pit mines. His favorite part of the SURF Program was hiking up Mt. San Jacinto to collect samples and learn more about all of the interdisciplinary applications available in the fields of Earth science. Beyond research or school-related activities, Blankenship enjoys walking his dogs, listening to classic rock, and has spent far too much time on Netflix during the quarantine. In his senior year, Blankenship looks forward to continuing his undergraduate research under Aarons and her team with the San Jacinto project. Blankenship appreciated that the SURF program provided workshops on graduate school and graduate research opportunities, and said he’s  now more determined than ever to pursue graduate school and earn a PhD.


Ivan Chavez is a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles studying microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics. His research interests focus on microbiology, especially microbial interactions, and microbes' potential use for human benefit. This past summer, he worked in Paul Jensen's lab studying marine microbiology and natural products. With mentorship from members of the Jensen Lab, Chavez’s project focused on assembling, annotating, and mining four new bacterial genomes from the Pseudoalteromonas genus. This is a genus of marine bacteria rich in the production of bioactive secondary metabolites. These new strains, previously uncharacterized, revealed potentially new biosynthetic gene clusters and produced metabolites as predicted based on the genomic data. The SURF program allowed Chavez to learn a variety of new tools and techniques to characterize the potential of this new bacteria . Thanks to the SURF program, Chavez has become more confident and excited to apply to graduate school to pursue a PhD in microbiology.


Rachel Chen is a senior at the University of California San Diego, majoring in marine biology. Her love for marine science stemmed from childhood visits to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. During the SURF program, Chen worked with postdoctoral researcher Elan Portner in Professor Anela Choy’s lab, studying the temporal variability of cephalopods in the diet of the longnose lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox). Previous studies have analyzed the cephalopod component of A. ferox stomach contents, but cephalopod hard parts (beaks) were excluded. Chen summarized data of individuals identified from beaks and analyzed variability in the most abundant cephalopods found as beaks versus soft tissue specimens over periods of seasons and years. The SURF program allowed Chen to learn about and participate in data analysis and gain research skills she will apply to a senior thesis project in the fall. After graduation, Chen aspires to pursue a PhD in oceanography or marine biology and to share her love for the ocean with others through education.


Winnie Chu currently attends Harvey Mudd College majoring in climate science. Chu became interested in the SURF program because it offered many hands-on research options with its proximity to the ocean and because it’s an essential institution for tracking and mitigating climate change. Chu’s summer research under the guidance of Matt Mazloff and Sarah Purkey focused on physical oceanography, studying the correlation scales of carbon dioxide in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Correlation scales are the distances from a point until the point no longer correlates with its surrounding area. Estimating these scales will help researchers understand where best to deploy new floats that can help monitor climate change progression. In the future, Chu would like to pursue a PhD and is now considering physical oceanography as her research focus.


Travis Davis is a third-year student at the University of California San Diego, majoring in electrical engineering. His interests mainly revolve around building computational models to analyze scientific phenomena. Davis found the perfect opportunity to explore those interests in the SURF program working with Associate Professor Matthias Morzfeld. During SURF, Davis worked with Morzfeld in writing a program that detects and predicts reversals in Earth’s axial magnetic dipole. So far, the program can detect reversals and predict reversals if the measured dipole intensity has gone below a certain threshold value. Davis hopes to continue improving and building upon this program by implementing machine learning methods. The SURF program has helped Davis gain a broader understanding of geoscience, programming, and research in general. His time at Scripps has encouraged him to pursue his ambitions as a scientist further. In the future, Davis hopes to gain more lab experience, improve as a programmer, and seek graduate education.


Marshall Dean is a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles, majoring in atmospheric and oceanic sciences with a minor in public affairs. He became interested in the SURF program as an opportunity to gain experience researching a field that he hopes to pursue in greater depth at his home institution and be surrounded by peers who are also interested in geosciences. At Scripps Institution of Oceanography this past summer, Dean joined the lab of Kate Ricke to study aerosol climate forcing and the dynamic effects that spatial aerosol forcing gradients may have. This project aims to provide outlooks on the impact of different aerosol emissions scenarios outlined in global climate agreements. In the future, he hopes to become more involved in undergraduate research at UCLA and plans to attend graduate school after completing his time in Los Angeles.


Chelsea Field is a junior at Cal State University Long Beach, majoring in marine biology. This summer, she worked in Simone Baumann-Pickering's lab, characterizing an autonomous network-based classifier's performance, aiming to determine species-specific beaked whale echolocation click types from acoustic data. Her assessment provided the insights necessary to improve the classifiers' performance on long-term acoustic data--which greatly reduces processing time, thus allowing efforts to be fostered towards follow-up questions that may expand our understanding of these cryptic whales. Field believes that acoustic data is a vital resource for monitoring anthropogenic influence on cetaceans, and she hopes to continue working in this field while obtaining her master's degree.


Evie Gedminas is a sophomore at the University of California San Diego, majoring in mechanical engineering with an environmental specialization. Born and raised in San Diego, Gedminas has grown to love the sea and plans to direct her engineering studies toward oceanography, incorporating a marine science minor into her degree. This summer, she worked with Scripps physical oceanographers Sarah Purkey, Matt Mazloff, and Ariane Verdy to explore the oxygen minimum zones of the tropical Pacific Ocean through data gathered by the new biogeochemical Argo floats. Gedminas also spent ten days at sea working under postdoctoral scholar Saulo Soares onboard R/V Sally Ride, collecting data to better understand internal waves off the coast of Point Conception. When she's not on the water, she's in it, surfing and swimming. Gedminas thanks the SURF program for her "incredible" first research experience and hopes to continue exploring marine science in graduate school, enthralled by the mysteries the ocean still has to offer.


David Gonzales is a senior at Pace University in New York City majoring in chemistry with a minor in environmental studies. He joined the Grassian Group the summer of 2019 as part of the CAICE summer research program. This past summer he worked remotely with graduate student Michael Alves investigating changes in light absorption and composition of chromophoric marine-dissolved organic matter across a phytoplankton bloom as part of a collaborative project, named SeaSCAPE 2019 (for Sea Spray Chemistry And Particle Evolution). By using state-of-the-art high-resolution Orbitrap mass spectrometry, he saw direct evidence of the microbially-produced light absorbing compounds in the organic matter. Thanks to the support of the research group, Gonzales said he will use these experiences to apply to graduate school at UC San Diego, where he will carry out his research questions.


Raul A. Gutierrez is a senior at California State University Dominguez Hills, where he is a biology major with an emphasis in cellular and molecular biology. This summer, Gutierrez worked in Douglas Bartlett's lab, where he examined extremophiles, marine microbes that live in extreme environments like the deep sea. His project focused on halophiles and microbes in hypersaline environments. He also examined genetic adaptations responsible for the variation in the tolerance between different species. Gutierrez loves microbiology and felt the SURF program gave him the experience and confidence needed to apply to graduate school to pursue doctorate programs focused on marine microbiology.


Karina Halliman is a senior at the University of California San Diego, majoring in environmental systems: ecology, behavior, and evolution. Her interests include intersections between environmental challenges and social justice issues, ecosystem ecology, and conservation. This past summer, she worked virtually in Maria Vernet’s lab studying microplastic pathways in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, utilizing the modeling software Ecopath, an in-depth literature review of the Antarctic ecosystem, and the threat of microplastics. The project provided insight into understanding microplastic bioaccumulation in higher trophic level species to help future researchers understand the prospective impacts of human plastic pollution. The SURF program has given Halliman greater confidence in her research abilities and inspired her to pursue graduate school. But first, she wants to explore different internships to solidify her area of interest in environmental science.


Charles Hendrickson is a senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz, pursuing a bachelor's degree in marine biology. Growing up surfing, diving, and fishing, he developed a love for studying the ocean and its marine life. This past summer, Hendrickson worked closely with Scripps scientist and CalCOFI Director Brice Semmens and Scott Heppell from Oregon State University's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife to assess Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) spawning aggregation demographics using diver operated stereo-video. Hendrickson spent his time using SeaGIS EventMeasure software to find the length-frequency distribution of aggregating Nassau grouper off Little Cayman, the smallest island in the Cayman Islands. He then compared fish length distributions in relation to the location on the aggregation site, date, time of day, fish color phase, and color phase distribution across time. Additionally, as a member of the Semmens Lab, Hendrickson participated in the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP) to help better understand the effectiveness of the network of California marine protected areas (MPAs) as a tool for conservation and fisheries management. His research from the SURF program has helped broaden his statistical data analysis and R programming skills, which he will use for completing his senior thesis at his home institution. Ultimately, Hendrickson plans to pursue a PhD in biological oceanography and a career as a researcher with NOAA Fisheries.


Kylie Kinne is a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles, majoring in physics with a minor in oceanic and atmospheric science. At Scripps, Kinne worked with Professor Nicholas Lutsko to model relative humidity over land at mid-latitudes. Kinne edited code in a global circulation model and ran several sets of simulations to better characterize the relationship between land surface properties and relative land humidity. This research aids the understanding of how heat stress—an important metric for understanding human comfort, labor productivity, and land habitability—is predicted to evolve with climate change. The SURF program has helped Kinne cultivate a passion for climate science, which she plans to pursue further in graduate school.


Verenis Lucas is a senior at Mount Saint Mary’s University, majoring in biology with an emphasis in environmental science and minoring in GIS (geographic information systems). She applied to the SURF program because she wanted the opportunity to work with experts at Scripps. During the summer, Lucas worked in the lab of Dick Norris. Lucas tracked foraminifera (a single-celled planktonic animal) around the oceans using data collected from sediment cores taken from the Deep Sea Drilling Project. She dated the first appearance of the Globorotalia truncatulinoides (a form of planktic foraminifera) in the southwest Pacific and calculated the Mass Accumulation Rates (MAR). With the MAR, she compared the data from the southwest Pacific to other sites to learn how the foram dispersed. Being part of SURF has allowed her to meet incredible people passionate about their contribution to the sciences. She plans on pursuing geoscience in graduate school and hopes to one day make an impact on society.


Jordi Mejia is a senior at San Diego Mesa College studying computer science. His interests focus on marine conservation through the use of technology. Mejia wishes to understand how he can apply the use of computer programs for marine research. This past summer, he explored how computer science and scientific research intertwine in the lab of Professor Lisa Tauxe. Specifically, he used paleomagnetic data to create interactive plots on JupyterHub (an online computational notebook) that replicate a pre-existing graphical user's functionality interface called Thellier GUI. He learned and used Python programming to create these plots. After completing community college, Mejia intends to transfer to a four-year university and complete a computer science degree.


Raymond Thicklin is a physics major from the University of California Santa Barbara. During the SURF program, Thicklin worked in David Stegman's geoscience and planetary physics lab. He utilized pioneer Python modeling scripts to model exoplanets and provided user-end feedback to developers. His research focused on TOI-700d: the first discovered, potentially terrestrial planet within its star's habitable zone. Thicklin said his experience in the SURF program helped shape his graduate school research interests, and he seeks to pursue a PhD in physics.

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