Summer Centered: Kelsey Chai '21 Gets a Bird's-Eye View of Research
The chemistry major with a minor in environmental studies is investigating the local herring population in Cordova, Alaska.
Kelsey Chai ’21 is fishing for some answers. From the Alaskan town of Cordova, nestled in the Chugach mountains, the chemistry major is conducting research on the local herring in the Prince William Sound (PWS). Funded by the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center’s Summer Scholars program, Chai’s research incorporates the classwork of her environmental studies minor by investigating the effects of climate change and a 1993 oil spill on the aquatic population.
Her study is centered around an examination of the fish’s scales, and in particular the spacings between their rings, which reveal their annual growth. By updating the Prince William Sound Science Center’s preexisting database, Chai aspires to reach some pressing ecological takeaways.
“The measurements I take could provide important insight into the growth of herring in the Prince William Sound and what might be affecting them, especially in relation to a major decline in their population since 1993,” she said. “This database could be used to learn more about what caused the collapse in population and what is hindering them from recovering back to previous levels.”
The rising junior plans to employ her chemistry expertise when drawing her closing observations at the summer’s end. But the greater science curriculum at Haverford has also been of use to her in this role.
“I have been able to integrate ideas from biology and environmental studies courses I have taken at Haverford,” she said. “Because much is unknown about what changes in the ocean have affected herring populations, one must look at the problem from multiple perspectives.”
Though her time processing and measuring scales in the lab is well spent, Chai’s work has also given the opportunity to experience the region’s incredible natural scenery from a variety of perspectives.
“I was also able to go on a two-day trip fishing for herring and helped with aerial surveys of herring schools over the PWS by float plane, which allowed me to see amazing things such as glaciers, sea otters, seals, and whales,” she said. “Weather permitting, we flew the entire PWS, hugging the coasts.”
Chai has also spent plenty of time outside of work getting acquainted with what Cordova has to offer. From participating in community events to exploring the natural scenery, she’s been able to get a true taste of Alaska.
“I have been on many hikes up mountains, aside lakes, and through beautiful forests,” she said. “This past weekend my mentor took me out strawberry picking on an island facing the ocean, and I learned how to make jam and salmon spaghetti!”
This summer should prove to be a resourceful experience for Chai going forward, as she plans to pursue a path in research or education in the future.
“This work has allowed me to take part in and see how research is done in the field and the lab,” she said. “It puts into perspective all the different processes involved with research, such as obtaining funding and how a project begins in the field.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.