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Potential Projects and Mentors for 2024

This list is being provided to give potential PEP applicants an idea of the kinds of research projects PEP students may do in 2024. Potential applicants might also review the research projects PEP students have done in recent years (2017-2023).

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 2024 program, you may indicate on your application which mentors or projects interest you. If we offer you a spot in the 2024 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 2024, we will assign mentors and will put students in touch with their mentors to discuss potential projects.

The Potential Research Projects and Mentors list will be updated periodically as more mentors/projects become available. We anticipate a broad range of projects to be available, including but not limited to: microbiology, science communication, ecosystems management, biogeochemistry, marine biology, coastal processes, geology, fish ecology, and wetland restoration.

Mentor(s) and lab:  Sara Zeigler

Institution/Department:  U.S. Geological Survey (Coastal and Marine Hazards and Resources program)

Research Interests:  My collaborators and I use landscape modeling, geographic information systems, remote sensing classification, and (non-human) population modeling to better understand how sea-level rise and storms impact coastal species. I am involved in research projects focused on current and likely future shorebird habitat use and availability in the U.S.; long-term storm patterns on early successional habitats in the Outer Banks; sea-level rise-driven ecological and geomorphological evolution of barrier islands; restoration assessments and decision analysis to support management of coastal species. My work is used to inform coastal management for shorebirds and other coastal species on barrier islands under current habitat conditions and possible future scenarios.

Potential 2024 project(s): Projects will be centered around mapping and detecting coastal change from remotely sensed imagery or in better understanding how dynamic habitat change impacts populations of imperiled species (e.g., piping plovers). Example questions might include (1) can changes in plant functional groups be used as a proxy for mapping coastal ecosystem change from remotely sensed imagery or (2) how might changing storm regimes impact piping plover populations.

Type of work: Mostly computer-based mapping and modeling with 1-2 local field trip/work opportunities (this will not be a field-work heavy project!)

Mentor(s) and lab:  Meagan Eagle

Institution/Department:  U.S. Geological Survey Environmental Geochemistry

Research Interests:  Coastal wetlands occur at the nexus of population growth and dynamic environmental change, including rising sea level and temperature, enhanced nutrient loads, and landscape conversion. Salt marshes are coastal ecosystems that provide a wealth of services, including bird and fish habitat, storm surge protection and carbon burial. This last ecosystem service is of interest due to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels primarily driven by the burning of fossil fuels and land use changes. My research at USGS focuses on the nexus of environmental biogeochemistry and ecosystem models to predict how these critical habitats respond to environmental stressors, such as sea-level rise, and management decisions.

Potential 2024 project(s): This summer interns in our group will have the opportunity to work on a large, collaborative project assessing the interaction of wetland hydrology and carbon fluxes. To do this, we will be studying coastal wetlands local to Cape Cod, measuring carbon dioxide and methane emissions, porewater geochemistry, and surface water fluxes. Coastal wetlands can be challenging environments to work in-they are muddy, hot, and sometimes buggy, but are always beautiful!

Type of work: Students will have the opportunity to learn new field skills and laboratory techniques while working with a group of scientists from the USGS and academic partners. Depending on specific research focus, which I like to develop with each intern based on their interests and goals, these may include skills in greenhouse gas flux measurements; learning how to collect and analyze soil cores; learning a variety of laboratory methods; gaining experience wetland carbon cycle research; and learning methods for record keeping, data analysis, and data presentation. Field work will be a key component. Data analysis skills in R will be emphasized. Such activities are excellent preparation for geoscience careers.

Mentor(s) and lab: Dr. Sean A. Hayes

Institution/Department: NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center- Protected Species Division

Research Interests: I like to build research programs that address the ecological challenges of our marine resources in order to remove the ambiguity around stakeholder concerns around everything from fishing gear entanglement to offshore energy development, thus enabling managers and stakeholders to make scientifically informed decisions to ensure sustainability of our marine resources.  I’m increasingly interested in the social power of certain marine species to influence marine policy and affect marine spatial planning where it is otherwise lacking.

Potential 2024 project(s):  As part of the Protected Species Division teams- students will be able to learn about a range of survey efforts that go into documenting marine mammal, turtle and fish (marine and anadromous) populations, distributions and habitat uses, as well as the tools and technologies we develop to minimize conflicts between these species and critical activities like commercial fishing, hydropower and offshore wind development.  Students could develop a range of potential projects from working with animal telemetry data sets, evaluating performance of ropeless fishing technologies, diet analysis of necropsied animals, or developing conceptual essays on the role of charismatic taxa (protected by laws like the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection act) play in setting the course for marine resource conservation and preventing the tragedy of the ocean commons.  For Example- a 2023 project focused on fin whale satellite tag telemetry data.

Mentor(s) and lab: Teri Frady/Heather Soulen, Woods Hole Science Aquarium

Institution/Department: NOAA/NEFSC Woods Hole Laboratory

Research Interests:  Public communications, social media management, digital media

Potential 2024 project(s): Our aquarium hosts the majority of its visitors in the summer months. Our project is to develop and execute a simple outreach and education program. This program would feature aquarium people, visitors, and animals to promote visitor awareness of the WHSA’s value to our community. This might include, but is not limited to: producing short videos on aspects of aquarium life, photography, a social media campaign, and in-person demonstrations/talks a few times a week. You can learn to use Adobe graphics, and photo and film editing software. You will have the chance to care for animals in our collection, learn basic laboratory and medical procedures, work on water quality systems, and assist with recordkeeping. Also, you will get a WHSA t-shirt!

Type of work: Writing, editing and producing written and digital projects to promote understanding of the WHSA’s value to our community; aquarium maintenance;  animal husbandry

Note: Students working in the aquarium must have a current tetanus shot.

Mentor(s) and lab: Katie Dever, Woods Hole Science Aquarium

Institution / Department: NOAA / NEFSC Woods Hole Laboratory

Research Interests: Aquatic animal husbandry, estuary and wetlands conservation, aquatic systems design

Potential 2024 Project(s): Our project is to establish a diamondback terrapin Head Start program at our Aquarium. Head Start programs offer a safe space for hatchling diamondback terrapins to grow for the first critical months of their life before they are reintroduced into the wild. This project would include designing and constructing a basic recirculating water system suitable for rearing hatchling diamondback terrapins as part of Head Start programs in conjunction with local organizations: Massachusetts Audubon or NECWA. The chosen individual would oversee the general husbandry (feeding, cleaning, filter maintenance, growth measurements, recordkeeping, and water quality) of hatchling diamondback terrapins under the guidance and supervision of aquarium staff and the attending veterinarian. There is the opportunity for this individual to participate in the husbandry of other animals in the aquarium’s collection, participate in education and outreach with visitors, and learn about aquarium's unique history and operations.

Type of Work: Animal husbandry, record keeping, aquatic system construction, aquarium maintenance, visitor education and outreach

Note: Students working in the aquarium must have a current tetanus shot

Mentor(s) and lab: Katie Dever, Woods Hole Science Aquarium

Institution / Department: NOAA / NEFSC Woods Hole Laboratory

Research Interests: Robotics and engineering, aquatic animal husbandry, public outreach and communication

Potential 2024 Project(s): Our project is to design and construct a ‘FishMobile’ or ‘Fish Operated Vehicle’ - a fish-driven tank for live visitor presentations and animal enrichment. Fish-driven vehicles are built from a basic tank with motorized wheels and sensors capable of identifying which direction the fish is moving. In conjunction, the chosen individual would develop educational material for presentations using the “Aquarium on Wheels.” Topics of interest that may be tied into the display include a fish's unique sense of their environment, how aquarium staff creates dynamic environments for their animals as part of their healthcare and misconceptions of fish memory. This project would coordinate with aquarium staff and the attending veterinarian to ensure the health and well-being of all animals while operating the vehicle. There is the opportunity for this individual to participate in the daily husbandry of other animals in the aquarium’s collection and learn about aquarium's unique history and operations.

Type of Work: Unique system design and build, robotics, animal husbandry and aquarium maintenance, visitor education and outreach

Note: Students working in the aquarium must have a current tetanus shot.

Mentor(s) and lab:  Mike Asaro

Institution/Department:  NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Risk Assessment and Mitigation Branch

Research Interests: Endangered and protected species protection, Human impacts on North Atlantic right whale conservation, Information exchange between scientists and decision-makers

Potential 2024 project(s): Our team has built and continues to develop a Decision Support Tool to assist the stakeholders NOAA convenes under the Marine Mammal Protection Act on the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team. Our spatially-explicit model overlays location data on commercial fixed gear fisheries, gear configuration types, and whale occurrence to provide estimates of entanglement mortality risk. Our tool is designed to allow stakeholders to estimate and compare potential risk reduction from a variety of potential measures to protect whales, including time/area closures, gear modifications, fishing effort reduction, etc. We are currently standardizing updates for commercial fishing data inputs, developing a graphical user interface, broadening our tool’s application to other endangered species like Atlantic sturgeon and leatherback sea turtles, and expanding the tool’s application to human impacts like wind energy development and aquaculture. We are seeking a student to join our team to learn and work collaboratively on all aspects of this project.

Type of work:  Students will be coding in R and working as part of a collaborative and supportive 5-person multidisciplinary team. Through this work you will gain technical skill development in addition to gaining a broader awareness of the science and policy issues impacting North Atlantic right whale recovery in our region.

Mentor(s) and lab: Marinna Martini, Advanced Technologies group 

Institution/Department: NOAA/NEFSC Woods Hole, Population Ecosystems Monitoring and Analysis Division, Ecosystems Survey Branch

Research Interests:  Marine Technology, Autonomous Vehicles, Underwater Imaging, Coding

Potential 2024 project(s): 

Our group has been funded to acquire an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and outfit it with a stereo camera system that can collect the same stereo image data as HabCam, on the Scallop Fishery Survey.  Working with a team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), we succeeded in collecting HabCam compatible images using a MBARI-LRAUV (a long range AUV designed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institution).

Turbidity is the bane of underwater imaging.  One of our challenges in verification of the cameras before we risk deployment of the AUV is to know the turbidity.  This we can measure with a sensor on a CTD - however having such a sensor available is not guaranteed.  HabCam sometimes gets towed through turbid waters, also.  Sometimes we must test the cameras in turbid conditions nearshore.  So we will end up with cloudy images at times.  

In finding a way to deal with turbidity in underwater images, there are questions around:  how much turbidity can we get away with?  Are there algorithms we can use to correct images that are degraded by turbidity?  Has anyone tried something like this?  I have seen some engineering papers regarding correction of images and video in turbid conditions, however have not had time to follow up.  It would be very helpful if someone could.  Someone interested in this kind of topic could a) do a literature search to see if there's something we could try and b) if a technique is found, give it a try on some of our images, or get started on code that attacks the problem.  At the very least, an interested student could learn about underwater imaging, and the challenges thereof.  Depending on the timing there might be an opportunity to go to sea with the AUV and HabCam at the end of June.

Type of work: Literature search, coding, image processing, field testing, possible 10 day cruise

Mentor(s) and lab:  Kathleen Savage

Institution/Department:  Woodwell Climate Research Center

Research Interests: Forest ecology, climate change, greenhouse gas fluxes

Potential 2024 project(s): Methane (CH4) is second only to carbon dioxide (CO2) in its contribution to human-induced climate change. Understanding the emission (source) and uptake (sink) of CH4 from ecosystems is of critical importance if we are to implement global emission mitigation strategies, yet we understand very little about CH4 flux in forests, the processes and feedbacks driving net flux, and how emission or uptake will change under future climate. As part of this work, the student will conduct controlled laboratory temperature and moisture incubations at the Woodwell laboratory, on microcosms of soils collected from the Howland Research Forest in Maine. This work aims to understand the drivers and responses of CH4 source/sink CH4 transitions under future climate change conditions predicted for the northeastern US.

Type of work: This will be primarily in the laboratory with a potential trip to the Howland Research forest in Maine.

Mentor(s) and lab:  Lauren Mullineaux, Benthic Ecology Lab

Institution/Department:  Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Research Interests:  Biodiversity, Community resilience, Population connectivity, Invertebrate larval dispersal

Potential 2024 project(s): Our lab studies the dispersal of larvae of seafloor invertebrates through the ocean, their settlement back to the seafloor, and the influence of these processes on community resilience to disturbance - both natural and human. We work as a team, using field observations, laboratory experiments, and mathematical models to understand how larvae respond to environmental cues and connect remote communities. Our research results help solve problems in aquaculture and fisheries management and inform policy on deep-sea mining. The team thrives on input from diverse perspectives and is committed to the highest standards of professionalism, including research integrity, collaboration, and respect for colleagues at all stages.

Type of work: In 2024, students will have an opportunity to gain research skills (including data visualization and analysis in R, Python and Matlab) in one of four different projects:

  1. Recolonization of deep-sea vents after catastrophic disturbance (specimen identification and analysis of community composition),
  2. Larval behavioral responses to chemical settlement cues (live animal experimentation, animal tracking, and movement analysis),
  3. Biodiversity in newly discovered ecosystem at inactive vent sulfide features (specimen identification, GIS mapping, distribution and diversity analyses)
  4. Movement ecology of deep-sea grazers (seafloor image processing and movement analysis)

Mentor(s) and lab:  Kirstin Meyer-Kaiser and Kharis Schrage (JP student), Meyer-Kaiser lab

Institution/Department: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Biology Department

Research Interests: Benthic ecology, larval biology, biological oceanography, connectivity, polar biology, climate change

Potential 2024 project: The high Arctic is warming rapidly, more than other regions. Rising temperatures have altered oceanographic circulation patterns, with Atlantic water influence extending further and further north. Benthic invertebrate larvae are passively carried around by ocean currents, so their distributions - and the connectivity of seafloor communities where they settle - are being dramatically impacted. The PEP student in our lab will analyze plankton samples from the high Arctic to understand how climate change influences larval dispersal. Samples were collected by PhD student Kharis Schrage in 2023 from fjords in Svalbard (Norway) and the Fram Strait (between Greenland and Svalbard). The student will collaborate with Kharis to sort and identify larvae and will take ownership over a subset of samples for their own project. Identifying larvae requires DNA extraction and sequencing. The student will be exposed to the wide diversity of invertebrates, embryology and larval development, principles of polar oceanography, and key techniques in molecular biology.

Type of work:This project is entirely lab-based. Tasks will involve sorting larvae from plankton samples under a microscope, DNA extractions, PCR, and interpretation of sequencing data.

Mentor(s) and lab:  Maddie Smith

Institution/Department:  Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering

Research Interests:  Ocean surface waves; sea ice; wave-ice interactions; upper ocean processes; Arctic and Antarctic fieldwork; integrating observations and climate models.

Potential 2024 project(s): There are two potential projects for 2024:

  1. Waves are important drivers of coastal change around the world. On short time-scales, waves can drive large changes in bathymetry which impact wave evolution and local mixing. This project will use high-resolution measurements of waves over around 5 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard from a novel method to quantify parameters of wave transformation. 
  2. Arctic sea ice is a key part of the climate system particularly because of its brightness (albedo) which reflects much of the incoming solar energy. Changes in sea ice with a warming climate may feedback to further changes in the Arctic climate system. This project will use observations of sea ice brightness and light transmission to quantify the impact of surface types and sea ice inclusions on the energy budget and sea ice melt. 

Type of work:This work will be mostly computer-based analysis of existing datasets using Python, but may include trips to the Shore Lab on Martha’s Vineyard to assist with field data collection. 

Mentor(s) and lab:  Elizabeth Sibert, Paleo-Biological Oceanography Lab (see for more information about the overall project)

Institution/Department: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Geology & Geophysics

Research Interests: Paleoceanography, paleontology, fish and shark biology, evolution, marine ecology, paleoecology

Potential 2024 project(s): Sharks are among the oldest vertebrates on the planet, with a fossil record stretching back over 400 million years. Sharks are covered in denticles – tiny tooth-like scales, which preserve a robust and unique record of sharks in deep time, and which have distinct morphologies that we are just beginning to understand. There are two broad project areas that a PEP student could work within, with a focus on either fossil or modern shark denticles. Potential projects using fossil denticles will explore how sharks have responded to past mass extinctions, shed light on how sharks have responded to ancient global warming events, or even explore how sharks and humans have interacted over the past 10,000 years. Potential projects using modern shark denticles will focus on aligning denticle morphology with taxonomic and ecological traits of living sharks, providing valuable context to the fossil record by building a catalog of modern shark denticle diversity using collections-based specimens. The PEP student would join an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional team that looks at denticles from a wide range of aspects from genetic developmental pathways to their application in bio-inspired engineering and design, and would participate in larger group meetings throughout the summer to learn about other aspects of denticle research.

Type of work: This project will be primarily lab based with some computer programming and image processing. The work will include sediment processing, picking for fossils using a dissection microscope, high resolution digital imaging, work with collections-based shark specimens, morphological characterization, and data analysis and interpretation using R. Potential participation in an end-of-summer in-person multi-institution group meeting off-cape.

Mentor(s) and lab:  Forrest Horton 

Institution/Department:  Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Geology & Geophysics

Research Interests:  Geochemistry and Volcanology and Petrology

Potential 2024 project(s): Volcanic hazard forecasting involves predicting the timing, size, and explosivity of volcanic eruptions. In addition to monitoring earthquakes and ground swelling near volcanoes, the composition (geochemistry) of lavas and volcanic gas can help us predict changes in volcanic behavior. Our team at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is studying three recent eruptions on Iceland, the Canary Islands, Hawai’i to improve our ability to use lava geochemistry to forecast future eruptions.

The PEP student would focus on one of these three eruptions. One goal is to extract crystals from the lavas and map the compositions of the crystals, which have growth zones like tree rings, using a laser ablation system to microsample along transects. Another goal is to understand the volcanic gas geochemistry within the crystals. The PEP student would assist with extracting crystals and crushing them under vacuum to analyze helium, a noble gas that  may be especially useful for forecasting eruptions. Depending on the interest of the PEP student, we may conduct fieldwork in Iceland to collect additional samples.

Type of work: The PEP student would participate in multiple stages of this research project. They will process the lavas by crushing, grinding, sieving, and hand-picking crystals with tweezers. After mounting crystals in epoxy and evaluating them visually (petrographically), the student will learn to use the laser system to analyze the crystals and then process the dataset to assess the magmatic history of the crystals and how that history relates to the behavior of the volcano. A short field trip to Iceland to collect samples and learn field geologic techniques is a possibility.

Mentor(s) and lab:  Mei Sato

Institution/Department:  Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Biology

Research Interests:  Biological-physical interactions, Animal Behavior, Fish and Zooplankton, Acoustics

Potential 2024 project(s): Our lab focuses on biological-physical interactions, addressing how environment influences animal behavior and distributions in coastal ecosystems and how those interactions affect trophic dynamics of zooplankton and fish. In order to address problems across a range of temporal/spatial scales, we use active acoustics in different platforms (vessels, moorings, cabled observatories, AUVs) combined with net sampling and physical measurements. There are three potential projects for PEP students in 2024:

  1. Characterizing zooplankton aggregations patterns in response to upwelling on the Alaskan Beaufort Shelf.
  2. Zooplankton and fish response to shelf break front in the Northeast U.S. Shelf waters.
  3. Characterizing squid aggregation behavior in response to changes in temperature and salinity on the Northeast U.S. Shelf.

Type of work: The project will be mostly computer-based analysis of existing data sets using Matlab and Echoview (software for acoustic data processing). There may be opportunities to join calibration efforts of acoustic sensors at the WHOI dock.