REU Site Directors
Vice President of Biological Research & Chief Scientist, Mystic Aquarium
Dr. Tracy Romano graduated with a BS in Biology from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont and received her PhD in Neurobiology & Anatomy from the University of Rochester, School of Medicine. As a National Research Council Fellow, Dr. Romano investigated the impacts of “stressors” (such as sound, changes in temperature, pollution, etc.) on the health of dolphins and beluga whales in conjunction with the U.S. Navy and The Scripps Research Institute. In 2004, she moved her research and laboratory to Mystic Aquarium. Currently, Dr. Romano is Vice President of Biological Research and Chief Scientist at the Aquarium, where she leads a team focused on aquatic animal health and conservation biology. She serves on multiple scientific advisory panels, was President of the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine, has created and conducted a nationally recognized science education and cultural exchange program for Native American youth, has led over 15 field expeditions to the Arctic, was a finalist for the Connecticut Technology Council’s Women of Innovation award and has made significant scientific contributions to the field of aquatic animal health.
Research Interests: Biogeochemical Cycles and Pollutants
Dr. Vlahos, is a chemical oceanographer and environmental engineer and studies how compounds cycle through the environment. Her group has a wide range of projects that are all woven together by chemical principles. Biogeochemical projects include coastal eutrophication in Long Island Sound with respect to nitrogen, carbon and oxygen cycling, respiration rates, degradation of organic material and the air sea exchange of carbon dioxide and gases between the water and atmosphere. Pollution projects involve the transport and flux of pesticides, perfluorinated compounds and other man made compounds in water as related to human health. For additional information go to: http://marinesciences.uconn.edu/faculty and http://env.chem.uconn.edu/.
Potential REU Research Questions:
• What factors control the cycling of nutrients and carbon in systems and what role do living systems play in these?
• How fast do bacteria degrade organic material under different conditions?
• How do pollutants enter coastal systems and how are they transported?
• Learn how to sample for and analyze a range of important environmental parameters including nitrogen, phosphate and organic compounds in marine systems.
• Learn how to deal with large data sets and perform quality control on data.
• Understand air sea gas exchange models and parameters.
• Learn how to extract pollutants from environmental samples and quantify.
Research Interest: Ecophysiology of Marine Bivalves
Dr. Ward studies the physiological and behavioral responses of marine suspension feeding bivalves to emerging contaminants and environmental change. An increasing area of concern is the effect of nanoparticles—additives commonly found in increasing frequency and abundance in substances such as sunscreen and cosmetics—and microplastics on marine bivalves’ life history traits. For additional information go to http://marinesciences.uconn.edu/faculty and http://web.cuonn.edu/jevanward.
Potential REU Research Questions: Do nanoparticles or microplastics accumulate in tissues of bivalves? How does environmental change affect the depuration period? Do nanoparticles or microplastics produce physiological (e.g., clearance rate, respiration rate, absorption efficiency) or immunotoxic (based on hemocyte function) effects on exposed animals, and how would this affect fitness and population dynamics? Are these changes confounded with changing environmental conditions due to marine climate change?
- Learn a variety of techniques appropriate for different levels of biological organization, including:
- cellular (e.g., immunoassays by means of flow cytometry)
- tissue and organ (e.g., microscopic, endoscopic evaluation) and
- organismal (e.g., feeding/filtration rate measurements, food selection assays, food absorption efficiency, respirometry).
- Collect invertebrates in the field.
- Learn about experimental manipulation and tissue sampling.
- Be exposed to several analytical techniques (ICP-MS, spectrofluorometry, loss-on-ignition analysis, dissolved and particulate organic carbon analysis, and particle characterization-ZetaSizer).