This week’s Student Spotlight post features Julia Middleton, summer Computer Modeling Intern. Julia works with Dr. Nicholas Record, Bigelow Laboratory’s resident Computational Ocean Ecologist. Read on to find out more!
by Sonia Vargas
Science Communications Intern
Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
Q: So I’ll just jump right in with the questions, where are you from?
A: “Well, I grew up outside of Boston… but my parents moved to Tennessee when I started college. That was a pretty far move, and since I’ve lived in Maine every summer for as long as I can remember, I decided to stay in Maine and continue living on Chebeague Island while I’m going to school.”
Q: Where do you go to school?
A: “I am a rising senior at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. I am a general chemistry and biology double major with a concentration in ecology and evolution. I am also completing a math minor.”
Q: Can you describe to me the project that you’ve been working on at the Laboratory this summer?
A: “I work with Dr. Nicholas Record and my official title is Computer Modeling Intern. I have been using computer modeling to look at virus-host interactions in marine ecosystems. These interactions are not well described in the scientific literature right now and there is a need to define these relationships. My project is kind of a drop in the bucket to try to help fill that need. We’re hoping to build a model based on Emiliania huxleyi (EHUX), which is a species of calcifying marine organisms called coccolithophores, and EhV viruses which are host specific to EHUX to see how the viral interactions change their bloom dynamics. Marine virology is kind of an exploding field right now and within the last 20 years scientists have been realizing that viruses in marine environments are more influential than previously thought.”
Q: What surprised you the most about coming to Bigelow Laboratory?
A: “I came here because I knew I would be immersed in a challenging scientific environment, so that didn’t surprise me as much. This might sound pessimistic, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. I expected to come here and be like, “This is good for me, I’m getting a lot of experience that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise,” but I didn’t expect to find the community that I did or to make such amazing friends. I feel like I came to work, but everyone I met was so open and inspiring that it turned into something more.”
Q: Why are you interested in oceanography?
A: “I chose to be a double major because I like to come at a problem from really different directions. If you come at a problem from two different angles, like from a chemical and biological perspective, you will most likely be able to come up with a more creative solution. Interdisciplinary stuff is really sick. This is really nerdy, but I’ll share a story with you of when I was a sophomore taking physics and linear algebra in the same semester. At first, I treated those two classes as separate entities, completely unrelated to one another. But one day, we were covering topics like optics, filters, and polarization in physics and I was just sitting there and practically shouting in my head, “This is linear matrix transformations!” I got really excited because I realized it was all one thing. That’s why oceanography is great. It’s all these different fields coming together and saying “Hey, the ocean is not just one topic”. You have physical, chemical, and biological oceanographers, and people across all academic disciplines like mathematicians and computer modelers (like Nick) coming together to solve these complex problems and that’s just so awesome and valuable.”
Q: You spent last fall semester here at the Laboratory as well, correct? What’s different about being here in the summer than in the fall?
A: “The biggest difference is that in the fall we were taking four courses and working on an independent research project for a whole semester. In the summer, we are here for a much shorter amount of time and are focusing all of our energy and time on our research project. In the fall, my day was broken up so that I was not doing research all day. It was split up so that I had time for research, sampling, and course work. In the summer, my days are structured very differently. I spend most of my day at the computer coding, and all other tasks I’m doing during the day is to further my research project. You just adapt to the differences.”
Q: What are some skills that you’ve picked up while being here at Bigelow Laboratory?
A: “The biggest one would be using MATLAB. I had never used MATLAB before I got here, and now I’m writing a program that has 8 nested functions and I wrote them all myself. There was a steep learning slope to learn to code in MATLAB, but so worth it because you can do so much with it.”
That’s all for Julia’s interview. Julia Middleton is a senior at Colby College and will be graduating in the spring of 2015. Be on the lookout for next week’s student spotlight!