Harrogate, Tennessee, August 1, 2018 — Summertime may be all about rest and relaxation for many students, but it’s also an opportunity for a great American getaway to a new locale that promises unique and valuable educational experiences. Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) undergraduate, graduate and osteopathic medical students traveled to Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory (FSUCML) this summer for just such an adventure. Back on campus, they recently wrapped up fascinating marine life research from the trip.
Dr. Stan Kunigelis, professor of physiology and director of LMU’s Center for Imaging and Analysis headed up an 11-day trip focused on multiple student research projects. The trip is an annual excursion designed to provide students the opportunity for novel research in the estuary, where small marine life grow. LMU students and faculty collected biologically unique creatures like copepods and tardigrades, as well as marine plant life, to study via electron microscopy when they returned to Harrogate.
“I can spend a whole semester teaching, or I can pop students in the water for 30 minutes and they become conservationists for the rest of their lives,” Kunigelis said. “The field work is a unique opportunity and compliments the use of the special resources the students have on campus with the imaging lab. These LMU students are getting a one-of-a-kind summer experience.”
“Dr. Kunigelis is providing a true research opportunity, especially for the medical students,” said Professor Emeritus Dr. John Copeland. “He is broadening the horizons of the students.”
The research destination, Sopchoppy, located on Florida's panhandle, is exposed to the Northern Gulf of Mexico and provided the perfect backdrop for summer studies. The FSCML is a leader in conducting and supporting exceptional research that advances marine ecosystem science and conservation and offers research opportunities to people from around the world.
Kayla Howard, an LMU senior from Harlan, Kentucky, received a scholarship to examine gulf intertidal sea grasses for traces of heavy metals. Safaa Abid, a senior from Knoxville, Tennessee, looked at cross sections of water-dwelling, eight-legged, segmented micro-animals called tardigrades, considered to be the most resilient species known to man. Dr. Marcelle Savoy, LMU-DCOM medical librarian, along with master’s student Allison Strong, of Port Clinton, Ohio, studied shrimp and copepods.
“We spent some of our days out on the boat running plankton and otter trawls for specimens,” said Howard. “My project focused specifically on collecting grasses from the shoreline by the laboratory. Other days were spent using microscopes to sort through sediments we collected to look for tardigrades. I also spent time washing off the grasses I collected and sorting through that water for tardigrades.”
The adventure also offered time for relaxing and enjoying the local wildlife.
“We even spent one day snorkeling with manatees which was extremely fun,” Howard said. “This experience helped me decide that I definitely want to work with aquatic ecosystems. I think summer trips like this are really important, because they give you the time to explore what you're interested in more in depth than the traditional classroom experience.”
The getaway was also important to first-year osteopathic medical student Henry Tsang, of Brooklyn, New York, who helped gather samples from the estuary.
“I have done some work in a lab in the past but was not involved in any field work, and I was able to have that experience this summer,” said Tsang. “The trip to Florida was nice in that it allowed me to have some fun in addition to getting some research experience. It was also nice to be able to spend some time with my fellow classmates outside of the classroom.”
Savoy’s primary focus was to assist with library resources, including how to do literature searches and use citation tools. However, as a trained microbiologist, she also was interested in the scientific aspect of the research itself, specifically with opossum shrimp.
“This particular species kept popping up in my searches,” she said. “According to the literature, they are found in the northern area of the Gulf of Mexico, where we were located, and are excellent indicators of the health of the environment because of their sensitivity to various toxins.”
Strong worked with other shrimp species and help preserve samples for Savoy, who will be returning for future research on the health of the Gulf waters.
“Field research is an asset for anyone actively participating in the biomedical or physical sciences. The insights and critical thinking gained from the experience of observing nature are incalculable,” Savoy said.
Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee. For more information about the undergraduate and graduate programs available at LMU, contact the Office of Admissions at 423-869-6280 or e-mail at [email protected].