From University of Rhode Island: Women in STEM- “Ways of the Ocean Scientist” Eva Lincoln

From University of Rhode Island

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Eva Lincoln (left) prepares plankton samples aboard the R/V Endeavor with Dr. Gayantonia Franze and undergraduate Anna Ward. Photo: Miraflor Santos/WHOI

This past summer, Eva Lincoln was working in an unfamiliar place: a boat at the edge of the continental shelf, facing 12-foot swells and waking up at 2 a.m. to process water samples with tiny specks of phytoplankton in them. And she loved it.

“Sleep was relative,” laughs Lincoln, a senior at Rhode Island College. “Our daily routine was, once we got to a station, to take water samples from the CTD (an instrument to measure salinity, temperature and depth profiles in the ocean), and place these water samples in our incubator. It was our job to make sure everything got done on time and that we handled the samples carefully.”

For 10 weeks, Lincoln was immersed in hands-on, oceanographic research as a SURF student, working under Dr. Susanne Menden-Deuer, professor at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography and a leading expert on plankton ecology.

“She gave me the reins and said, ‘I want you to figure out what aspects of oceanography you find interesting, and then we can build a project from there,’” says Lincoln.

At the end of her SURF experience, Lincoln was invited by Menden-Deuer to conduct research aboard the R/V Endeavor.

The RV Endeavor, the University of Rhode Island’s research vessel. Photo courtesy of the Inner Space Center

Working with a fellow undergraduate, Lincoln filtered the water samples over 24-hour and then 12-hour periods in order to achieve the most accurate chlorophyll readings. The data collected will help scientists on board better understand how quickly plankton, the base of the marine food web, grow and die.

“It is a privilege to provide students with the opportunity to explore their own research interests, and Eva’s experience was the real thing,” notes Menden-Deuer. “With access to the high-caliber research environment at GSO, students like Eva quickly attain a high degree of proficiency, and as oceanographers, we gain a new colleague with a unique perspective.”

Eva explains her summer research at the annual SURF Conference to RI Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor and Christine Smith, Managing Director of Innovation at RI Commerce. Photo: Michael Salerno/URI

Functioning as a researcher on board a ship was an entirely separate, and important, lesson for Lincoln.

“At the dock, we had to make sure we had all of the equipment needed,” she explains. “On the first day we had to get up super early, and I was so sick. I had to go back to bed. There is so much that goes into not just the actual science, but preparing for the cruise.”

The fourth-year RIC student, who also tutors anatomy and physiology at the Community College of Rhode Island, has always had a deeply inquisitive mind, and wanted to know more about plankton interactions in marine food webs.

“I have always been the pain in the butt kid who asks, ‘Why does that happen?’” she says. ““Plankton are an essential part of the food web and are eaten by so many things. If you add more nutrients to the phytoplankton, does that make them happier and therefore better food for the zooplankton?”

Dr. Sarah Knowlton, Lincoln’s advisor and chair of physical sciences at RIC, first suggested SURF as a possible research experience, meeting with the undergraduate this past spring to guide her through the application process.

“With SURF, you are in the middle of a research lab, learning all sorts of techniques and interacting with faculty, graduate students and post-docs,” explains Knowlton. “The experience really builds confidence, and that students can cross institutions and see how things go is so valuable.”

Lincoln presented her research on single-cell herbivores, or ‘microzooplankton,’ at the annual SURF conference this past July. For her work, she was honored by Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor at July’s SURF Conference for producing outstanding research.

The RIC senior knows that she loves the environment and chemistry. Now, Lincoln’s focus is getting accepted to the best-fitting graduate program.

“You get that little taste of what it is going to be like when you go to graduate school through SURF,” she emphasizes. “I can’t wait to be in graduate school myself.”

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The University of Rhode Island is a diverse and dynamic community whose members are connected by a common quest for knowledge.

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