Summer Centered: Russell Nicholson ’18 Dives into Marine Biology Research
The biology major and environmental studies minor is analyzing samples of Emiliania huxleyi at Haverford and, later, at the University of Georgia.
Diving into the deep end of oceanography, Russell Nicholson ’18 is swimming through samples in the lab this summer. The biology major and environmental studies minor from Titusville, N.J., who recently returned from studying abroad in Barbados, is pursuing his passion in marine biology in the lab of Kristin Whalen, assistant professor of biology at Haverford. He is assisting Whalen in her project trying to understand bacterial chemicals and their relationship with significant oceanic key species.
Nicholson is studying the “mechanisms of action” between bacteria and phytoplankton inside the controlled confines of the lab, analyzing collections of biological samples. Understanding these microbial interactions has important implications outside the labs of the renovated Sharpless Hall—they can help researchers understand how oceanic microbes mediate the environment and the climate. Currently, he is studying Emiliania huxleyi, a commonly found plankton species integral to many ocean environments.
“Phytoplankton provide us with one out of every two breaths of oxygen,” Nicholson says, and he is devoted to learning as much as he can about the massively important photosynthesizing eukaryotes.
The most exciting part of his time in lab this summer, he says, is the “element of chance”—every or any sample he pulls from the freezer may hold important answers to understanding bacteria and phytoplankton relationships.
This summer lab work will contribute to his upcoming senior thesis, which will likely involve the water microbes he is analyzing. And though Nicholson is considering a path towards graduate school, he also wants to make a difference by taking on a role in the classroom. Either way, he hopes to approach his work from the frame of “ecosystem-based management,” combining his academic interests in marine biology with his political interests in environmentalism.
“At this point, I don’t want my career to be completely filled with lab work,” he says, “In some form, I’d like to be an educator.”
For now, Nicholson, who is living in the Haverford College Apartments, will continue his lab work at Haverford before heading to Savannah, Ga. in July to work under Whalen’s colleague, Elizabeth Harvey, at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. His work is funded by the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center, whose Summer Scholars program is supporting his research both at Haverford and in Savannah.
-Andrew Nguyen '19
"Summer Centered" is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.