SURF Program 2021: Student Profiles

Undergraduates have the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research alongside a Scripps mentor

This summer, 27 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. Funded largely by the National Science Foundation, SURF is a nine- to ten-week fellowship program where select undergraduates have the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research alongside a Scripps scientist mentor, while gaining important insight into graduate school and future careers in oceans and earth sciences. The annual program returned to a mostly in-person experience in 2021 after being remote in 2020. Read more about the 2021 SURF cohort in this article.


Learn about the 2021 SURF participants and their individual research projects below:


Apollonia Arellano is a junior at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, majoring in environmental earth and soil sciences, with a concentration in geology. Her interests include paleoclimatology, astronomy, and physical oceanography. This past summer Arellano worked in Jennifer Haase’s lab, investigating ice-ocean-atmospheric interactions of the Antarctic atmospheric boundary layer, with Airborne Radio Occultation (ARO). Using MATLAB, she derived and compared atmospheric profiles from ARO data, in order to determine if surface settings produce significant variability. The SURF program exposed Arellano to the computational side of research, improved her coding skills, and provided guidance for the graduate school application process. After she graduates, Arellano plans to pursue a PhD in paleoclimatology so that she can study past climates in order to help address anthropogenic climate change.


Vine Blankenship is a junior majoring in oceanic and atmospheric sciences at the University of California San Diego. Her interests within the field include aerosol-cloud interactions and how the earth’s albedo will shift with a changing climate. Over the summer, Blankenship worked in Lynn Russell’s lab, analyzing aerosol size distributions using coding software and using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy to study the absorbance of aerosols found in the marine boundary layer in La Jolla, Calif. Both the size distributions and absorbances of aerosols are highly useful in characterizing how these particles will interact with clouds, and whether they will affect cloud albedo and precipitation. Blankenship used MATLAB to cluster data from the Layered Atlantic Smoke Interactions With Clouds (LASIC) study, meaning she grouped the data into different size distribution types. The overall trends of the size distributions indicated when certain aerosol types were dominant in the marine boundary layer in the region surrounding Ascension Island. Ascension Island is an interesting area of study because it experiences a ‘clean’ period in which the surrounding aerosols are dominated by sea spray and marine biogenic particles, and a polluted period in which smoke particles from the seasonal fires in Africa are transported via wind to the island. Blankenship’s plan going forward is to expand upon this analysis of aerosol size distributions by studying the seasonal shifts in aerosol compositions over Ascension Island, and how these shifts affect the concentration of cloud condensation nuclei.    


Alyson Bovee is a senior at UCLA, majoring in microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics. Her research interests focus on marine extremophiles (microbes that live in various harsh environments) and how humans can use these microbes for medicine and other natural products. During her summer at Scripps, Bovee worked with Luke Fisher in marine biologist Douglas Bartlett’s lab, studying the effects of extreme salinity on microbial viability and genome integrity. In her experiments, she used colony forming units, PCR, and flow cytometry to determine live versus dead cells and levels of DNA degradation. This project allowed her to explore her love of marine microbes in an engaging and thought-provoking way. Following graduation, Bovee plans to attend graduate school to pursue a master of science degree in biotechnology, and eventually continue her research in marine microbiology.


Angelica Bradley is a senior at the University of California San Diego, majoring in marine biology. Her research interests include marine conservation, marine pollutants, deep-sea biology, and marine microbiology. During the SURF program, Bradley worked in biological oceanographer Lisa Levin’s lab with graduate student Devin Vlach, studying the physical and hydrographic characteristics of the Southern California Borderland, in order to better understand the megafauna communities on the seafloor. She analyzed the physical data (depth, oxygen concentration, temperature, salinity, and pH) from last year’s Nautilus research cruise, seeing notable differences between the inshore and offshore sites. The SURF program gave Bradley her first research opportunity, as well as a chance to expand her skills in data analysis and visualization. After graduation, Bradley intends to pursue a master’s in marine biology, with the goal to ultimately educate others and help make the ocean sciences accessible to all.


Alexandra Brown is a senior at California State University Bakersfield studying general biology. Her research interests are in anthropogenic impacts on marine food webs and the trophic importance of gelatinous organisms in marine ecosystems. This summer, she worked in biological oceanographer Anela Choy’s lab under postdoctoral researcher Elizabeth Hetherington, investigating the biomass of two types of gelatinous zooplankton in the Southern California Current Ecosystem—pyrosomes and calycophorans. Gelatinous zooplankton were traditionally thought to be trophic dead-ends in marine food webs, but scientists are increasingly realizing their important roles in ocean ecosystems. For her project, Brown sorted, counted, and weighed pyrosomes and calycophorans from bulk zooplankton samples that were collected in trawls from a 2020 research cruise. She used the counts and weights of the animals, as well as the water volume data collected during the trawls, to gain biomass estimates for both animals to better understand their distributions and potential vertical migrations across depths, times of day, and distances from shore, as well as their contributions to the overall trawl biomass. The SURF program gave Brown invaluable research experience, and exposed her to lectures and seminars that deepened her interest in biological oceanography and reaffirmed her intention to pursue research in graduate school. She also forged friendships and professional connections that she will continue to nurture after the program’s completion. After graduating, Brown aspires to obtain her PhD in marine biology or biological oceanography, in order to pursue her desire to teach and mentor the next generation of women of color and people with disabilities in science, and to continue to champion diversity, equity, and inclusivity efforts throughout her life and career.


Sergio Castillo is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, studying physics: space sciences, and minoring in classical studies. His interests include climate science, aviation, drone technology, and ancient civilizations. This past summer, he worked with climate scientist Dan Lubin on creating a low-cost method discerning between ice and supercooled liquid water content. By creating an algorithm to sort Antarctic data sets, he was able to efficiently produce the desired results in a timely manner. Future research would involve applying this method to new data from Siple Dome in Antarctica, as well as utilizing a low cost and an easily transportable spectroradiometer. While he wasn’t doing research, Castillo spent most of his time expanding his food palette by exploring the different restaurants that San Diego has to offer. He would also take frequent drives around the city to see the different sights. He will continue his research at his home institution while finishing his degree, and hopes to apply similar technology to flying drones. He plans to work in the aviation industry before pursuing a degree in graduate school.



Maya Chari is a junior at UCLA, studying computational biology. She is interested in using math and computing concepts in order to better understand dynamics of various oceanic systems. This summer she worked with graduate student Teddy Vincent in geoscientist Amina Schartup’s lab, to develop a model that predicts past and future Arctic phytoplankton blooms based on sea ice time series data. The model is useful in providing a quantitative link of the physical impacts of global warming to biogeochemical responses, and was implemented in the trace metal bioaccumulation model to predict mercury flux in the Arctic. The SURF program gave Chari valuable insight into new applications of mathematics, chemistry, and modeling, and inspired her to continue to learn about oceanic biogeochemistry. Chari hopes to attend graduate school after completing her undergraduate degree. 





MaKayla Etheredge is a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying geology. This summer Etheredge worked in Jamin Greenbaum’s polar geophysics lab, where she analyzed ocean data off of the Sabrina Coast, East Antarctica. Her project focused on increasing knowledge around the ocean state and seafloor near Totten Glacier. Etheredge loves studying hazards, and has plans to go to graduate school to study geological hazards.





Susan Garcia is a senior at Brandeis University, double majoring in biology and chemistry. Her current research interests include the intersection between microbiology and chemistry, and oxidative stress in organisms. This past summer in the SURF program, Garcia worked under biogeochemist Julia Diaz and PhD student Sydney Plummer in researching extracellular reactive oxygen species in phytoplankton physiology and growth. The SURF program gave Garcia the opportunity to further develop her laboratory skills, science communication, and networking skills. She was able to learn more about the biogeochemistry field, and how interdisciplinary the science world is. Garcia will be graduating in spring of 2022, and plans to pursue a PhD in microbiology with chemistry. 




Abbie Glickman is a senior at Oregon State University, majoring in physics and minoring in mathematics. This past summer, Glickman worked in physical oceanographer Fiamma Straneo’s lab, under the supervision of graduate student Bobby Sanchez and postdoctoral scholar Tiago Bilo. The aim of the project was to study summer oceanographic conditions on the shelf outside of the Sermilik Fjord in Greenland. Using Python, Glickman analyzed CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) data from a series of cruises to the fjord between 2011 and 2019. By creating temperature-salinity diagrams and vertical cross-sections of oceanographic properties, the researchers gained a better understanding of the water masses interacting with the fjord. Glickman intends to continue the project that she started this summer as a senior thesis. She said the SURF program provided an excellent opportunity to improve her coding skills, increase her knowledge about important oceanographic processes, and gain insights into potential paths in the earth sciences. Glickman ultimately plans to pursue a PhD in physical oceanography.


Isis Guadalupe Díaz is a senior at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, majoring in chemistry. Her interests include marine chemistry, atmospheric sciences, and environmental justice. This past summer, she worked in earth scientist Sarah Aaron’s lab studying particulate matter—specifically, how it varies in concentration and composition across Southern California. As a part of this project, Guadalupe Díaz studied how neighborhoods from different ethnicities and backgrounds are disproportionately affected by the air quality. SURF helped give her more confidence in herself and in the graduate school application process. Once she graduates, Guadalupe Díaz aspires to continue her studies at a graduate level.


Israel Gutierrez is a senior at California State University, Los Angeles, majoring in chemistry, with interests in atmospheric and marine chemistry. Over the summer he worked in Vicki Grassian’s research lab, where he experimentally observed the synergistic effect of chromophoric and aliphatic organics on nitrous acid formation in the marine boundary layer. Nitrous acid is an important molecule of study because it is a major contributor to hydroxyl radical and nitric oxide in the atmosphere, which affects climate and air quality. SURF gave Gutierrez the opportunity to study and solidify his passion for atmospheric chemistry, and return to wet lab research in person. Gutierrez plans to apply to atmospheric chemistry graduate programs in the fall.


Nicholas Jacobs is a rising junior at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is an environmental studies major with an emphasis in data science, and a double minor in religion and computer science. This past summer, Jacobs worked in marine biologist Brice Semmens’ lab, working on a computational project that studied the impact of larval fish abundance on Brandt’s Cormorant mortality. His work focuses on data in the statistical software R, and finding correlations through data cleaning, statistical tests, and plotting. Through the SURF program, Jacobs gained valuable insight into the field of marine ecology and life in graduate school. He plans on pursuing a PhD in marine or environmental science upon graduation.


Christian Johnson is a senior at the University of California San Diego, studying marine biology. His interests include molecular marine biology, marine micro-ecology, and polar studies—specifically around the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). This summer Johnson worked on a data analysis project in biological oceanographer Maria Vernet’s polar ecology lab, with PhD student Allison Cusick. Data collection was done in the austral summer around the WAP through Fjord Phyto: a citizen science project working to train technicians to assist tourists with simple data collection methods. This allows for long-term seasonal data to be collected across the entire region, rather than the previously more short-term and localized data that was only available when scientific expeditions were funded. By analyzing salinity, temperature and depth data collected by CTD, abundance, and biomass counts through microscopy, Johnson was able to better understand how these communities are currently structured, and how likely they are to change if increased amounts of glacial meltwater accelerated by global warming continue to propagate into the Southern ocean—an area responsible for around 40 percent of global carbon capture. This project helped him develop his data analysis skills while working in R, Ocean Data View, and QGIS, and while studying the WAP, an area that he finds truly intriguing. After Johnson graduates, he plans to continue working in a lab while obtaining his master’s degree at Scripps.


Trevor Ludwick is a senior at Western Carolina University, majoring in geology and mathematics and minoring in natural resources management. This summer at Scripps, he worked with geophysicist Peter Shearer to identify and analyze clusters of seismicity in Hawaii, using Python and Fortran. The analysis entailed categorizing the clusters as main shock-aftershock (MS-AS) sequences or swarms, and seeing if there was noticeable migration of the earthquakes present in the swarms. The research aided his understanding of overall seismicity patterns in Hawaii, and provided some insight on magma or solid earth processes that were present in particular regions of the island. Ludwick felt that the SURF program introduced him to a plethora of research fields, and gave him much greater confidence to pursue further research in graduate school. However, he wants to narrow his natural science interests down with the help of future courses, internships, and research experiences, before applying to graduate school. 


Sandra Martinez is a senior at California State University, San Marcos, majoring in biochemistry with a minor in Spanish. Her research interests include marine life, especially  learning about the roles of marine microorganisms and interactions with their community. This summer she worked in marine biologist Paul Jensen’s lab, under the guidance of PhD student Hans Singh and postdoctoral researcher Gabriel Castro-Falcon. The project she worked on stemmed off the parasite Euhaplorchis californiensis, a trematode which is known to occupy three different hosts to complete its life cycle and has the ability to alter the monoamine activity in its second intermediate host, the California killifish. This affects its locomotion and social behavior, making it thirty times more likely to be captured by a shoreline bird, the parasite’s final host, where it matures and reproduces. Martinez’s curiosity led her to analyze the microbial community of the first intermediate host, the California horn snail. She was interested in bacteria that may have the potential to produce microbial secondary metabolites and in investigating the types of microbes living in the California horn snail. The SURF program gave Martinez tremendous insight on what is expected of an ideal PhD candidate, through workshops and from meeting Jensen’s lab members. By attending SURF seminars, Martinez was exposed to  new fields within oceanography, sparking new research interests. She plans on attending a post-baccalaureate program to further strengthen her research skills, which she can later transfer on to pursue a PhD in marine biology.


Alex Mausshardt is a senior at Montana State University studying physics, with a climate science focus. His research interests center around global warming and its impacts on society. This past summer, Mausshardt worked with physical oceanographers Sarah Gille and Matthew Mazloff to research the impacts of climate change on tides at Scripps Pier. This work involved coding with MATLAB to correlate tide gauge data with a long-term trend and El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The SURF program gave Mausshardt valuable experience in the climate science field and opened doors to future research opportunities, while also exposing him to many fields of research outside of climate science. After graduation, Mausshardt hopes to help find solutions to global warming—whether that be through academia or industry.



Leyla Namazie is a senior at the University of California Berkeley, majoring in geophysics. She spent her summer working in the Scripps paleomagnetism lab with geophysicist Jeffrey Gee and PhD student Sarah Maher, where her job was to characterize the magnetization of gabbro rocks from mid-ocean ridges. Her work contributed to a larger project focusing on gabbroic exposures at Pito Deep, a region off the East Pacific Rise, where magnetic remanence data is used to create thermal models of mid-ocean ridge crustal accretion. At Scripps, Namazie was able to learn about the underlying physical properties contributing to rock magnetism and the different techniques used to assess magnetic mineralogy. She also got to collaborate and brainstorm ideas with the incredible students and professors in the geomagnetism group at Scripps. Namazie developed a very valuable network with these scientists, all of whom she hopes to keep in touch with down the line. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she plans to pursue a PhD in geophysics where she can further explore the properties of rock magnetization and continue her contributions to paleomagnetism. 


Francis Nguyen is a senior at California State University, Monterey Bay, majoring in marine science with research interests in deep-sea ecology and biology. During the SURF program, Nguyen worked with graduate student Devin Vlach in biological oceanographer Lisa Levin’s lab, studying the biodiversity of the Southern California Borderland (SCB). The deep sea is poorly explored, so being able to create baseline characterizations for the region’s ecosystems will help facilitate management and may influence policymakers’ decisions. Nguyen individually counted taxa from seven video transects taken from the Nautilus cruise in 2020, and used this data to compare the biodiversity of inshore and offshore sites at an average depth of 600-700 meters. In the future, this data will help determine marine protected areas within the research sites of the SCB. The SURF program allowed Nguyen to gain a better understanding of the skills and knowledge needed in the field of deep-sea biology. After graduation Nguyen plans to pursue a PhD in marine biology or biological oceanography, in hopes of uncovering more mysteries that the deep sea has to offer. 


Rachel Qing Pang is a junior at Princeton University, majoring in physics with interests in physical oceanography and environmental conservation. She is interning in the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) group, and is mentored by PhD student Channing Prend and physical oceanographers Lynne Talley and Sarah Gille. This past summer, Qing Pang focused on remote sources of oceanic heat delivery to the Ross Ice Shelf by analyzing the role of bathymetry in the Marie Byrd seamount region. She is fascinated by the mechanisms that drive the circulation pathways of warm, oxygen-poor Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW), and how it makes its way to the Ross Ice Shelf. She has been employing the use of the Biogeochemical Southern Ocean State Estimate (BSOSE) and data from Biogeochemical (BGC) Argo floats.


Juliana Peckenpaugh is a senior at Purdue University, studying planetary science with a minor in physics. Her research interests include geomagnetism, seismology, explanets, and impact craters. Peckenpaugh spent this summer working with geophysicists Jeffrey Gee and Catherine Constable on a project that assessed the reliability of old and new paleomagnetic data from Icelandic lavas. To assess impact of any inaccuracies from the estimated tilt and from the assumption that the flow was horizontal when cooled, the scatter of the Virtual Geomagnetic Poles (VGPs) of the directions measured by scientists in 1977 from 21 sections of successive lava flows in eastern Iceland were recalculated based on variable estimates of tilt correction. The tilt correction was adjusted in full degree increments, and the scatter was recalculated using the PmagPy Python package made available by geophysicist Lisa Tauxe, in order to determine the effect on VGP dispersion. This project helped Peckenpaugh improve her knowledge of the geomagnetic field, paleomagnetism, and skills with coding. She will graduate in December 2021, and plans to attend graduate school in the fall of 2022. 


Anesse Pinpokintr is a senior at the University of Rochester, majoring in environmental science. Her general research interests include marine ecology, climate change effects on ocean systems and organisms, and biogeochemical cycles in marine environments. During the SURF program, Pinpokintr worked in biological oceanographer Maria Vernet’s lab under PhD student Allison Cusick, studying phytoplankton ecology in order to understand how their composition changes with melting glaciers in the Western Antarctic Peninsula. She learned various coding and imaging programs, such as Rstudio, Qiime, QGIS, and Ocean Data View (ODV), to process and graph location, euphotic depth, genetics data, and CTD sensor data. The project aimed to provide a better understanding of how climate change and glacial meltwater affect phytoplankton diversity, and to give more insight into how the upper trophic levels may respond to these changes. The SURF program has given Pinpokintr valuable connections and research skills, and has solidified her decision to go into phytoplankton ecology. In the future, she hopes to continue exploring phytoplankton ecology in graduate school.


Dylan Salam is a senior at Arizona State University, majoring in geology with a minor in physics. During the SURF program, Salam worked under geophysicist Peter Shearer and postdoctoral researcher Tianze Liu, using teleseismic S reflections (recordings of seismic S waves at distances greater than 1,000 km from the measurement site) to image the upper mantle. Salam used Python programming to conduct large-scale data analysis and learned skills that are essential for all geophysicists. He expresses continuous curiosity for hard questions in seismology and plans to further his education in graduate school. 





Ismael Santacruz is a senior at California State University, Northridge, studying geophysics. His research interests include geomagnetism, exoplanets, and paleomagnetism. He spent this summer working with geophysicist Catherine Constable on visualizations of various components of the magnetic field. The SURF program gave him valuable experience in geophysics, opened doors to future research opportunities, and exposed him to many fields of research outside of geophysics. This project also helped Santacruz improve his knowledge of the magnetic field, paleomagnetism, and Python. He will graduate in December 2021, and plans to attend graduate school shortly after.


Lauren Serrano is a junior at the University of California San Diego, majoring in marine biology and minoring in urban studies and planning. Her research interests include animal morphology and evolution, as well as natural resource management and conservation. This summer, Serrano worked in marine biologist Deidre Lyons’ lab to locate shell matrix proteins in Crepidula atrasolea, a type of marine slipper snail. Under the mentorship of PhD student Grant Batzel and postdoctoral scholar Maryna Lesoway, Serrano conducted in-situ hybridizations on C. atrasolea samples, and was able to visualize shell matrix protein expression in the shell gland and mantle. Through the SURF program, Serrano was able to develop her skills in molecular biology, along with a much greater appreciation for marine invertebrates. She hopes to continue as a member of the Lyons Lab while at UC San Diego, and plans to eventually pursue a master’s degree in marine biology.


Amaya Singleton is a senior at the University of Arizona, majoring in geoscience with a minor in marine science. During her summer at Scripps, Singleton worked in climate scientist Katherine Ricke’s lab, researching the Tijuana River Valley and the effectiveness of utilizing a simple model to evaluate pollution transport in coastal cities. The SURF program allowed Singleton to improve her programming skills and gain research experience that she can utilize in the future. Following the completion of her undergraduate degree, Singleton plans to spend some time away from school to develop career-based skills before returning to pursue a master’s degree in marine science. 





Christopher Winters is a senior at the University of California San Diego, pursuing a degree in ecology, behavior, and evolution, with a minor in marine science. His current research interests include behavioral and restoration ecology, as well as a burgeoning interest in entomology, the scientific study of insects. During the SURF program, Winters worked with UC San Diego ecologist David Holway on a project involving the Argentine ant and its role in the intertidal scavenger in the coastal wrack—seaweed, surfgrass, driftwood, and other organic materials produced by coastal ecosystems that wash ashore on the beach. His work involved hypothesis synthesis, as well as fieldwork involving baiting and data analyzation using R. The SURF program gave Winters the opportunity to develop skills involved with setting up and executing an experiment within the field of ecology, as well as practical coding experience for analyzing data from the field. In the future, he intends to pursue his PhD in ecology, in order to get involved with conservation and restoration through research.

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