Honors Spotlight Star: Hannah Merges
Hannah Merges (’21) participates in Dr. Goddard’s lab researching the effects of certain stressors on coral.
Whose lab are you in?
- Dr. Goddard’s
What is the title of your research?
- The Combined Effects of Thermal and Salinity Stress on the Species of Coral, Astrangia poculata.
Give a brief summary of your research.
- I am looking at the effects of thermal stress and salinity stress on a species of temperate coral. Corals have symbiotic algae that inhabit the coral host and provide nutrients and the bright colors that we typically associate with coral reefs. However, when stressed, these algal cells are expelled, and the corals lose their color and source of nutrition, so they are at risk for mortality. Global climate change is causing the average sea surface temperature to increase as well as causing an increase in the strength and frequency of storms. Increased temperatures and lower salinity may be harmful to corals, so the goal of our research is to study their responses to these stressors and observe any local adaptations between our corals collected from Massachusetts and from Florida.
What was your motive for joining a research lab?
- I knew research was something I was interested in pursuing from my first semester freshman year. I was interested in environmental studies and quickly realized how much I loved marine science research. I participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates internship the summer after my freshman year, which solidified my passion for being near the water and for pursuing a path of research. After this, I joined Dr. Goddard’s lab working on the ongoing research project with Fundulus heteroclitus, and then created my own project for honors.
What are your future plans for after graduation?
- I am planning to take a gap year to gain more experience in the field and then plan to pursue a graduate degree in coral reef ecology.
How has participating in research affected your college experience?
- I think participating in research has given me the opportunity to explore my academic interests in new ways, which is an experience I might not have had if at a larger university. It has taught me a lot of practical skills and helped me figure out what it is I want to study after I graduate.
What has been the highlight of your research?
- I have loved getting to work with the corals and learn how to take care of them and keep my tank systems healthy. The coolest part is being able to see the corals under the microscope, studying individual polyps, and learning about their anatomy and feeding behaviors.
Any words of wisdom for prospective student researchers?
- I would say to choose something that excites you because it makes the research that much better when you are connected to the subject matter. Research can be challenging, but if you are passionate about what you are studying it makes those long days worth it.
Are there any fellow researchers or mentors you would like to thank?
- I would like to thank Dr. Goddard for all her help in the lab and for her help in designing the research methods. I would also like to thank Dr. Leah Joseph and Dr. Rich Wallace for their constant support throughout this process. Thank you to my lab mates and peers for help with feeding as well.