HAVERFORD JUNIOR HAS ENLIGHTENED ECOLOGICAL EXPERIENCE AT MARINE BIOLOGY LABORATORY
Growing up amid the Green Mountain State’s natural beauty gave William Longo ’07 an inclination to protect the environment. Last fall, he had a chance to indulge this instinct with the Semester in Environmental Science (SES) program at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.
Founded in 1888, the Marine Biology Laboratory (MBL) is the oldest of its kind in the country and an internationally recognized center for research, education, and training. Every fall it offers the SES, a 15-week program for students whose schools participate in the MBL Consortium on Environmental Science.
Chemistry major Longo first learned of the program through the biology departments at both Haverford and Bryn Mawr, and was impressed with the MBL’s facilities and its prime Cape Cod location. “There are so many different ecosystems,” he says. “You’ve got forest, saltwater ponds, the ocean, salt marshes, and stratified ponds that are half salt and half freshwater, and they’re all within an hour of the lab.”
To fulfill academic requirements, Longo took a core course in aquatic and terrestrial ecology and an elective in the mathematical modeling of ecosystems. Most of his semester was dedicated to his independent research project, examining the metabolism of sediments in nearby West Falmouth Harbor, and the relationship between the primary producers dominating certain parts of the harbor and the rates at which the sediments metabolized and respired. Areas with green algae, for example, caused fast aerobic respiration rates, while areas with eel grass caused these rates to be slower.
“Eel grass is often found in a pristine environment not disturbed by humans, but algae can be characteristic of an area where humans have caused disturbance,” says Longo. “We see how we affect the ecosystem’s processes.”
Longo relished the autonomy his project allowed: “This was the first time I’d researched anything on my own. It came down to me to get this done.” He collected sediment samples from various sites in the harbor by inserting sediment cores in the soil and brought them back to the lab, where he created sets of anaerobic and aerobic “slurries” (mixtures of water and mud). He attached these slurries to a machine that measures changes in carbon dioxide levels over time, and gauged the rate of the samples’ breathing. “If they were breathing at all, we had to assume decomposition was taking place,” he says, “because the only living things within the sediment were microorganisms. We wanted to see how quickly they were decomposing.”
Longo, who will work in Associate Professor of Chemistry Terry Newirth’s lab this summer, wants to pursue green chemistry in the future. “I went to Woods Hole to learn about environmental ecology,” he says, “and compare it to what I would be doing with green chemistry.”
— Brenna McBride