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Potential Projects and Mentors for 2022

This list is being provided to give potential PEP applicants an idea of the kinds of research projects PEP students may do in 2022. Potential applicants might also review the research projects PEP students have done in recent years (2018-2021).

PEP does not guarantee that successful applicants will be matched with their first choice project/mentor. The PEP staff and the research mentors will work together to match students in labs where they can be successful. If you apply to the 2022 program, you may indicate on your application which mentors or projects interest you. If we offer you a spot in the 2022 program, we will take your interests into account when we match students with mentors. Soon after we extend offers (in March) to participate in PEP 2022, we will assign mentors and will put students in touch with their mentors to discuss potential projects.

The Potential Research Mentors list will be updated periodically, as more mentors/projects become available.

Mentors and lab:  Dr. Scott Chimileski and Dr. Jessica Mark Welch

Institution/Department:  Marine Biological Laboratory, Bay Paul Center for Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution
Research Interests:  Human microbiomes; marine microbiomes; spatial organization of bacterial communities; genomics and metagenomics of bacteria.
Potential 2022 projects:  
Animals, including humans, use mucus to interact with bacteria.  Mucus can be a sticky net that captures bacteria and pushes them away to keep mucosal surfaces clean, or mucus can be a rich food source to encourage growth of desirable bacteria. We use microscopy to study bacterial growth and organization, particularly the spatial organization of bacterial communities in mucus. Student projects will investigate how mucins and inert polymers change how bacteria grow, spatially organize, and interact with each other.  Students will learn how to cultivate bacteria, image them using state-of-the-art microscopes, and process and analyze the image data. Most of the bacteria we study are from the human mouth or gut, but projects could also involve marine microbes.


Mentors and Lab: Elizabeth Pendleton, Rachel Henderson, Travis Sterne, and Erika Lentz

Institution/Department: USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center

Research Interests: Coastal hazards and decision support

Potential 2022 Project: The changes that can occur along the coastal landscape in response to hazards, such as sea- level rise, storms, and flooding, are widely recognized but difficult to predict, especially regarding where, when, what, and how much change will occur. Nonetheless, coastal managers need actionable information to make decisions that account for future hazards. The coastal change likelihood team at the U.S. Geological Survey's Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Research Center supports resource decision making by creating mapped outcomes in a machine learning framework that combines future coastal hazards and intrinsic landscape characteristics to highlight areas of the coast that are most likely to change or be impacted in the coming decade. Our research focuses on using existing geospatial datasets from a variety of agencies and institutions to create a synthesis of our complex coastal landscape. There are opportunities for students to get involved in building these coastal datasets with us, and an intern in this study should have an interest in coastal and marine science, remote sensing or data analysis, and geospatial mapping applications. This study can be done in-person or remotely and does not require onsite field or laboratory work.

Mentors and Lab: Dr. Adam Subhas

Institution/Department: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry

Research Interests: The Subhas Lab is generally interested in organisms that grow calcium carbonate shells in the ocean, and their role in the global carbon cycle.  We are interested in this cycle because it controls how much carbon the ocean can take up and sequester away from the atmosphere.  We may be able to use this cycle to store anthropogenic carbon dioxide, helping to solve global warming and ocean acidification. This process is known as ocean alkalinity enhancement. There are many practical challenges and unknowns on the topic of ocean alkalinity enhancement, both from the engineering side and from the ocean impacts side.Some of the lab’s work can be viewed here

Potential 2022 Project:

There are several summer projects available in the lab involving ocean alkalinity enhancement in the Subhas Lab. The first is a set of experiments to measure calcification rates in seawater using a carbon isotope spike – this would be really useful to understand how fast organisms grow their shells in the first place – and further more it will help measure the impacts of ocean acidification – and alkalinization -- on these organisms. I also have a project looking at how fast some different types of silicate rocks (like serpentine) dissolve in seawater and produce alkalinity.  These reaction rates are crucial to understanding how fast these rocks can neutralize carbon dioxide, and will help us understand if we can use these rocks to sequester anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the ocean.

Mentors and Lab: Drs. Catherine Walker and Melisa Diaz

Institution/Department: WHOI, Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering; Geology and Geophysics

Research Interests: Climate change in Earth's polar regions (i.e. Arctic and Antarctic); mapping; remote sensing; satellite imaging; laser altimetry

Potential 2021 Undergraduate Project(s): The usage and applications of satellite imagery to study evidence of modern climate change in Antarctica are still relatively new. We propose an exploratory undergraduate project using satellite imagery and possibly ICESat-2 satellite data to locate and map ponds in the Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica. Once the ponds are identified, the student will dive into historic records to measure lake/pond level change over time and relate these data to long-term temperature trends throughout the region. No prior knowledge of Antarctic geomorphology, mapping, satellite imagery, or computer programming is required, though these skills would be beneficial. This project would best suit a student with an interest in the cryosphere and remote sensing.

Mentors and Lab: Dr. Anna Michel

Institution:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering

Research Interests: Our interdisciplinary (engineering and chemistry) research focus is on advancing environmental observation through the development and deployment of novel sensors for measurement of key chemical species. In my lab, we design, build, and deploy advanced laser-based chemical sensors for environments ranging from the deep sea to Arctic environments. We are especially interested in bringing new technologies to the field for measurement of the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide. An additional focus of our lab is on bringing adaptive sampling to ocean and earth science. More recently, we have been developing approaches for detecting microplastics in the ocean.

Potential 2022 Projects: 

Projects can include developing and testing small gas sensors, investigating microplastics in ocean environments, advancing small platforms (including underwater remotely operated vehicles, surface vehicles, or drones) for making environmental measurements, and using machine learning approaches for data analysis.  Our group includes members with interests in environmental chemistry, engineering, computer science, and physics, but we welcome anyone with interests related to our research. Students can expect an interdisciplinary research experience.

Mentors and Lab: Dr. Joel Llopiz & Dr. Rubao Ji

Institution:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Biology Department

Research Interests:Fish ecology; Zooplankton ecology, Food web dynamics, Ecosystem modeling.

Potential 2022 Projects:

  1. Lab-based and potentially field-based efforts related to understanding the diets of small pelagic fish and the dynamics of zooplankton on the Northeast US Shelf (if on site). The student could perform dissections of fish, data collection from fish, preparation of fish and zooplankton samples for stable isotope analysis, analysis of diet, stable isotope, zooplankton availability data, and potentially participate on a 6-day research cruise (depending on space and timing). 
  2. Explore zooplankton-fish interactions by analyzing survey data collected from the Northeast US Shelf (NES).  The student will learn to retrieve, organize and analyze data collected from the NES Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Project ( and NOAA Fisheries survey program. (This work is not conditioned on on-site participation, and could be conducted fully virtually with remote access to the data and computing facility at WHOI)

Students will have opportunity to interact with a large team of multi-disciplinary researchers involved in the NES LTER project, in which Llopiz and Ji are co-PIs. To maximize the learning experience, the scope of the project could be adjusted flexibly by mixing different portions of Project 1 and 2, depending on the nature of participation (on-site/virtual).

Mentors and Lab: Dr. Chris Neill

Institution: Woodwell Climate Research Center

Research Interests: Understanding the factors that enhance the success of ecological restoration of wetlands and grassland and the ways that ecological restoration, and the ecosystems services that restored ecosystems provide, can contribute to regional resiliency in the face of climate change.

Potential 2022 Projects: If the program is in-person, focus will be on two projects. Both projects may also be done remotely.

  1. Understanding the effects of climate change on nutrient inputs to Buzzards Bay estuaries from coastal rivers. This project will include field sampling of rivers, analyzing nutrient samples in the laboratory, quantifying water inflows from rivers, and trying to understand how inflows will change in a future climate with increased variations in river flows.
  2. Quantifying water quality impacts in the urban New Bedford watershed of Buttonwood Brook. This project will involve intensive field sampling upstream and downstream along a highly impacted stream that flows through the heart of the city of New Bedford and flows into Buzzards Bay in Dartmouth, MA. Samples will be analyzed in the laboratory. Results will be used to develop a Buttonwood Brook restoration plan with the Buzzards Bay Coalition and partners in New Bedford and the Town of Dartmouth.

Mentors and Lab: Dr. Lauren Mullineaux

Institution/Department: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Research Interests: Ecology of the seafloor; Larval dispersal, Deep-sea biology,  Population connectivity, Community resilience. More at:  Mullineaux Benthic Ecology Lab

Potential 2022 Projects:

  1. Explore the behavior of planktonic larvae as they swim through turbulent marine conditions in the laboratory. Students will learn to culture invertebrates, collect and analyze video images, and visualize and analyze behavioral data.
    2. Monitor colonization of deep-sea hydrothermal vents after eruption disturbance. Students will sort and identify invertebrates from vent samples under a microscope, visualize and analyze data, and contribute to a decades-long monitoring effort.

Mentors and Lab: Dr. Meagan Eagle

Institution/Department: USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center

Research Interests: The interface of land and sea; building new tools to address coastal hazards.

Potential 2022 Project: 

Coastal wetlands provide a wealth of ecosystem services, including habitat, coastal protection and a net climate cooling effect through CO2 uptake and low greenhouse gas emissions. Structures that impede natural tidal exchange, such as culverts, were installed in the past in many tidal creeks during construction of railways, roads, and walking paths, fundamentally altering carbon cycling processes. In marshes where tidal flow is restricted, salinity and water level are altered, resulting in an altered wetland ecosystem consisting of vegetation that would not occur naturally, such as freshwater emergents like phragmites and cattails, and conditions that promote greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon burial, resulting in net climate warming. The Environmental Geochemistry group at the U.S. Geological Survey's Woods Hole Coastal & Marine Research Center does research to quantify the carbon cycle impacts in wetlands across a variety of environmental and management conditions using soil, water, and gas flux methods. The intern or researcher should have an interest in coastal ecosystems and a desire to learn new field and laboratory techniques. An interest in geochemistry is desirable but not essential. Intern should anticipate work in adverse field conditions, as salt marshes, while beautiful, can be hot and buggy during the summer.

Mentors and Lab: Dr. Rachel Jakuba and Dr. Alice Besterman

Institution: Buzzards Bay Coalition

Research Interests: Salt marsh ecosystem state and functioning in southern New England, and ecosystem responses to environmental stressors.

Potential 2022 Project: The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization focused on the protection, restoration and sustainable use and enjoyment of Buzzards Bay and its watershed. We pursue our mission to save Buzzards Bay through research, conservation, education, and advocacy. BBC collects thousands of environmental measurements annually, including ecological, hydrologic, and geophysical assessments. The student will focus on BBC’s salt marsh monitoring that started in 2019, including vegetation, fauna, and elevation data collected from 12 salt marshes around the Buzzards Bay watershed. Potential projects could include analyzing salt marsh vegetation communities over time, spatial comparisons across salt marsh elevation gradients, or spatial comparisons between salt marshes. Primary focus of the student would be on analysis of previously collected data, however, there would be opportunities for the student to participate in some field work.


Mentors and Lab: Dr. Rachel Jakuba and Virginia Parker

Institution: Buzzards Bay Coalition

Research Interests: Understanding water quality and how it fluctuates on short-time scales using relatively low-cost sensors.

Potential 2022 Project: The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization focused on the protection, restoration and sustainable use and enjoyment of Buzzards Bay and its watershed. We pursue our mission to save Buzzards Bay through research, conservation, education, and advocacy. The BBC has been monitoring water quality around Buzzards Bay for 30 years. For the last three years, we have deployed sensors that record temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen every 15 minutes. The student will support water quality data collection, including regular checking of a sensor in Quissett Harbor, and analyzing sensor data to answer research questions. Potential research questions include how temperature has increased over time, how variable dissolved oxygen concentrations are in a season and inter-annually, and how dissolved oxygen concentrations change with temperature.