News Feature

Springing Ahead

Undergraduate research project provides seafaring adventure

Annika Jurgilewicz, ’21, and Emily Reardon, ’20, never imagined their Bridgewater State University studies would lead them to work beside scientists on the deck of a research vessel operated by the renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

However, in another example of the excellence epitomized by BSU’s nationally recognized undergraduate research program, the students studied hot springs found deep beneath the surface of the Caribbean Sea, as the only undergraduates aboard the 274-foot R/V Atlantis.

“I feel like a scientist,” Annika, a geology major from Pepperell, said, while reflecting on the recent four-week expedition. “I feel so much more confident in my scientific abilities.”

Hot springs regulate ocean chemistry globally. Scientists on the Atlantis studied hot springs located 100 miles south of the Cayman Islands that are the deepest discovered to date. They support a unique ecosystem that uses energy derived from chemical reactions instead of light.

“We’re trying to figure out which chemical reactions involving hot springs provide the energy source for the ecosystem,” said Dr. Peter Saccocia, a BSU geological sciences professor who participated in the expedition and has long studied hot springs.

Saccocia’s colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Seewald of Woods Hole, was the mission’s chief scientist and invited Saccocia and two BSU students to attend. Emily and Annika, whose participation was funded by a National Science Foundation grant, emerged from a competitive application process.

The trip prepared them for graduate school and future careers, as they discovered the interdisciplinary nature of the sciences and identified areas where they need to expand their knowledge.

“Doing this work, there’s always going to be problems,” said Emily, a physics major from Falmouth, who aims to work in physical oceanography. “Learning how to overcome these problems is a valuable skill.”

Scientists tasked the remotely operated vehicle Jason with diving to the hot springs and collecting samples. Aboard the Atlantis, Annika and Emily sat in front of a large bank of monitors in a control room. They maintained logs of Jason’s activities and recorded when it spotted something interesting.

The work done by the students was key to the operation.

“They’re very important roles,” Saccocia said. “There’s a tremendous amount of data being collected. The event and video loggers are keeping track of all of that.”

Annika and Emily also analyzed samples of hot spring fluid to determine its dissolved sulfur content and pH level.

Spending a month at sea whet their appetite for more seafaring research.

“It really forced me out of my comfort zone, but I ended up really liking it,” Annika said.

Added Emily: “If this was my career, it would never be considered work.”

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