Congratulations to Dr. Patricia Myer, PhD!

Congratulations to Dr. Patricia Myer, the department’s newest PhD! Here is a description and some photos of Dr. Myer’s PhD journey, in her own words.

My Ph.D. dissertation defense was on March 20th, 2023, and titled “A Critical Examination of the Factors Controlling Methylmercury Uptake into Marine Plankton.”

I am a student in Dr. Robert Mason’s group and my research includes a three-year long time series of methylmercury in phytoplankton in Narragansett Bay, RI, a research cruise in the Northwest Pacific (NOAA GU1905), and laboratory uptake experiments with the dinoflagellate O. marina.

The goal of these projects was ultimately to compare the effects of biological and environmental variables (e.g., cell size, temperature, dissolved organic matter) between laboratory experiments and environmental studies to try to disentangle the leading drivers of methylmercury accumulation into plankton. The main takeaway is that relationships seen in laboratory experiments, both from my work and the literature, are not nearly as straightforward in the environment. There is a lot more work to be done to understand these complex relationships.

Currently, I have one publication from my prior undergraduate work (https://doi.org/10.1007/s10646-022-02548-0) and one from my work in the Mason lab that is not part of my dissertation (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2022.134609). I am currently preparing three papers relating to my dissertation for publication.

This work was funded by NSF Chemical Oceanography and the UConn Predoctoral Award.

Myer on the GU1905 cruise with a portable fume hood for processing methylmercury samples into particulate and dissolved fractions – October 2019


Myer presenting in Krakow, Poland at the International Conference for Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP) – September 2019

Anagha Payyambally awarded Quad Fellowship

Congratulations to Anagha Payyambally, a PhD student in Professor Cara Manning’s research group, who has been selected as part of the inaugural class of Quad Fellows. Anagha is one of 100 recipients out of over 3200 applicants across all STEM fields to be selected for this fellowship, which is administered by Schmidt Futures (a philanthropic initiative of Eric and Wendy Schmidt). The rigorous selection process involved a written application, reference letters, and two interviews, and was designed to assess candidates’ academic excellence, intellectual rigor, interest in the intersection of STEM and society, capacity to bridge differences, and orientation towards results.Here is some info on the award, from Quad:
“This program sponsors 100 exceptional American, Japanese, Australian, and Indian master’s and doctoral students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to study in the United States. The fellowship develops a network of science and technology experts committed to advancing innovation and collaboration in the private, public, and academic sectors, in their own nations and among Quad countries. The program builds foundational understanding among Quad Fellows of one another’s societies and cultures through cohort-wide trips and robust programming with each country’s top scientists, technologists, and politicians.”

The next application for Quad Fellows is expected to open in November 2023.

Mary McGuinness completes MSc on alkalinity in Long Island Sound embayments

Congratulations to Mary McGuinness who presented her MSc thesis research on alkalinity in Long Island Sound embayments on November 17, 2022.  Mary was advised by Dr. Penny Vlahos. Below is a description written by Mary about her research at UConn and her accomplishments during her degree. Check out the photos of her field work, too! Congratulations, Mary, and best wishes for the future!

I came to UConn in June 2020 after receiving the Crandall Fellowship for my commitment to diversity enhancement in higher education and science during my time as a undergraduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. While working on the Alkalinity of Long Island Sound Embayments (ALISE) project I was able to conduct field work across the Long Island Sound and help close the gap for alkalinity and inorganic carbon data in these rivers. Over a two year study I observed spatial trends for alkalinity across the Long Island Sound rivers, at their freshwater endmembers and detected help levels of acidification sensitivity. Lastly I produced an attributive model that indicated importance differences between the eastern and western Long Island Sound and presented novel controlling parameters which can be tested with the collection of further data to help fully resolve this system.

I was able to present my work virtually the Ocean Sciences Meeting (2022) and in person at the Long Island Sound Conference (2022) and Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Conference (SETAC) (2022). At the SETAC Conference I was presented with the best Oral Presentation Award.


Mary sampling on the Connecticut River


Filtering for dissolved organic carbon at the Thames River


Collecting data in the Thames River with labmate Lauren Barrett


Finishing a day of data collection at the Housatonic River


Outreach event for eelgrass restoration

On October 19, members of the Marine Sciences Department participated in an outreach event for a research project that is led by Professors Craig Tobias and Jamie Vaudrey, graduate student Shannon Jordan, and Chris Pickerell from the Cornell Cooperative Extension. The research is funded through the Long Island Sound Study. The researchers are aiming to improve the success of eelgrass restoration by adding a chemical amendment to the sediments when eelgrass shoots are transplanted to a new location.

The outreach event involved bringing community members and scientists together to prepare the eelgrass shoots for transplanting at the new sites in the Niantic River. Shannon and the team have also been conducting lots of field measurements and laboratory experiments in the lead up to the transplanting event. We look forward to learning how the eelgrass grows in its new habitat over the next year!

Shannon Jordan, Josie Mottram, Anagha Payyambally, and Alex Frenzel prepare eelgrass shoots for transplanting

Community members prepare eelgrass shoots for transplanting. Credit: Jamie Vaudrey


Shannon Jordan and Alex Frenzel participate in fieldwork for the project


Shannon, Amelia, Brian and Peter collect sediments for laboratory experiments

Antibiotics as a Method to Perturb the Gut Microbiome

Nearly all living organisms have a collection of bacteria that live within or on their body and provide essential functions, such as aiding digestion and neutralizing toxins. An important community of microbes primarily located in the gastrointestinal tract of animals is known as the gut microbiome. Scientists are working to understand the complex interactions between the gut microbiome and both essential body functions and disease. One way to study the benefits of the microbiome is to analyze organisms with reduced or eliminated microbiomes. These organisms are lacking the bacteria that may help them mediate environmental stressors.

Griffin et al. (2021) presents the development of a methodology to perturb the gut microbiome in bivalves using antibiotics. This methodology can be valuable to further research by providing a technique that produces animals with reduced or eliminated gut microbiomes without killing the hosts. The project began with the PhD work of Dr. Melissa Pierce, a previous student in Prof. Ward’s lab. Her work exposed oysters (Crassostrea virginica) to a cocktail of antibiotics for 4 days, but didn’t observe any significant changes in the diversity of gut microbes. Tyler Griffin’s work extended the exposure period to 3 weeks and used the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis), which is a commonly used bivalve for lab experimentation. As this was his first PhD research project, Griffin reflected that learning when to be independent and learning when to ask for help were some of his biggest challenges. He cited the help of Bridget Holohan and former Ward lab postdoc Dr. Lisa Nigro as invaluable.

The experimental design is shown for both oyster (top) and mussel (bottom) exposures.

As shown in the flow chart, bivalves were exposed to antibiotics in individual microcosms, or mason jars, and fed a microalgae stock culture that was sterilized by boiling. Three antibiotics were chosen to inhibit a broad group of bacteria. At the end of the experiment, mussels were dissected and analyzed by a few different methods to determine the effect on the microbiome. Through a chance conversation with and help from Dr. Brittany Sprecher, a previous PhD student in Dr. Senjie Lin’s lab, Griffin chose quantitative polymerase chain reaction, or qPCR, which is a technology used for quantifying genes, to check for the total number of bacteria in the gut. qPCR results showed that mussels exposed to antibiotics had a reduced number of bacteria, and other techniques showed reduced microbial species richness and shifts in the whole community composition. Essentially, the antibiotics had successfully reduced the number and type of the bacteria in the gut microbiome, which supported the hypothesis that prolonged exposure to antibiotics can perturb the gut microbiome of bivalves. 

Moving forward, Griffin hopes other researchers can use these methods to study other bivalve species, other microbiomes on different body sites, such as the gill, or even other suspension feeders such as gastropods or ascidians.

Tyler Griffin

Griffin, T. W., Pierce, M. L., Nigro, L. M., Holohan, B. A., & Ward, J. E. (2021). An examination of the use of antibiotics as a method to experimentally perturb the microbiota of suspension-feeding bivalves. Invertebrate Biology, 140( 4), e12352. https://doi.org/10.1111/ivb.12352

Elise Hayes: Longstanding DMS Business Manager

For 30 years, Elise Hayes served as the Department of Marine Sciences Business Manager, called the Marine Sciences Institute at the time of her hiring. She began her time at UConn Avery Point as an undergraduate student, spending breaks working with the National Undersea Research Center and ultimately earning a bachelor’s degree through the UConn Account program. During her tenure, she worked with six department heads/center directors including Richard Cooper, Robert Whitlatch, James O’Donnell, Ann Bucklin, James Edson and Evan Ward.

During her time at UConn, Hayes had the opportunity to participate in many exciting moments. She recalls the opportunity to join a research cruise in the Gulf of Maine and participate in a dive on a 2-person submersible, attending the christening and launch of the RV Connecticut in Maine, and participating in an RV Connecticut cruise to release two pilot whales that were rehabilitated at the Mystic Aquarium as highlights of her time here.

Elise Hayes

As Business Manager, Hayes managed all administrative activities including pre-award and post-award grant management as well as payroll and oversight of purchasing, accounts payable and recharge center activities, among other duties. Her valuable ability to manage the many moving parts of dozens of grants and accounts earned her the gratitude and respect of faculty, staff, and students, and the department will sorely miss her after her retirement at the end of March this year. Post-retirement, she plans to spend more time on her hobby farm where she raises a horse and donkey, goats, and recently acquired some lambs, and spend time at her cottage in Maine.

DMS’s JEDI Committee Successfully adds Department to AGU Bridge Program

In response to the increased focus in recent years on improving diversity in higher education, particularly STEM fields, the Department of Marine Sciences created a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) committee. This committee includes Professors Dave Lund and Samantha Siedlecki, Research Operations Manager Dennis Arbige, graduate student Mikayla Baer, and undergraduate Larissa Tabb. The committee primarily focuses on JEDI issues that affect our department, but has met with the director of UConn’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and presented about our department’s efforts on UConn’s main campus. Dr. Lund explains the goal of the committee: “The overall goal of the JEDI committee is to enhance the diversity of the department and make it more inclusive to people with a range of backgrounds (including gender, racial and sexual orientation). In doing so, our hope is to improve access to resources and education in DMS, which in the long term will make our field a more just place.  Additional details about our mission/goals can be found on the departmental JEDI website.” 

The department as a whole raised questions and concerns about diversity and inclusion through a climate survey. The JEDI committee took the results of this survey as well as their observations of areas of need to develop specific goals. Dr. Lund said, “One of the main concerns raised amongst committee members is the lack of racial diversity in our speaker series, which we have started to address by gathering demographic information on the invited speakers. We need some baseline information to understand how we’re doing and where we can improve. One other issue that’s come out of the committee is the lack of transparency in the university’s bias reporting process (an issue originally raised in our departmental URGE pod). As a result of this input, we approached the Avery Point administration and they have set up workshops on the topic in collaboration with university representatives from main campus, including one for faculty and staff on April 7 and one for students that we’re told will occur later in the term. One of the other main topics we’re trying to address is that of diversity in our student body. Unfortunately, this is a common issue for Earth science departments around the country.  To address this issue, there have been two main activities. The first is that the GRE requirement for admissions has now been waived, given its expense, poor predictive ability, and apparent bias towards racial minority groups. The other activity was to become a partner with the AGU Bridge Program, whose goal is to match students from under-represented minority (URM) groups with graduate Earth science programs around the country.” DMS has had several success stories of URM graduates who have secured academic positions at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Connecticut College, and the Harte Research Institute, among other positions.  The goal of partnering with the Bridge Program was to further DMS efforts in this area. 

The AGU Bridge program has been in place since 2019, and is intended to increase opportunities for students from historically marginalized populations to obtain graduate degrees and create a network of peers, mentors, and advisers to support and serve them before, during and after grad school. Applications to this program are competitive, with a success rate of 28% in 2021. Dr. Lund explained that the decision to apply to the Bridge program was straightforward based on the concerns raised by the department and committee. The application process involved writing a proposal that made the case that our department was deserving of a partnership based on previous progress in the JEDI area, such as the departmental climate survey, removal of GRE requirements, and URGE pod (see the Spring 2021 newsletter to read more about this). 

Additionally, the JEDI committee worked on putting together a Bridge fellowship fund to match funding for this program received from the Dean through a separate proposal, and raised nearly 3 times their initial goal.  Dr. Lund comments, “Our hope is that by becoming a Bridge partner we will have access to a group of students that typically wouldn’t apply to DMS. Given that this is our first year, it’s hard to know how it will go, but we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to attract strong applicants, in part because of ongoing JEDI activities in DMS and in part because faculty have come together to contribute funds to help create a Bridge fellowship. Our discussions with the Bridge program indicate that we are the only department amongst the current 46 partners to have the fellowship subsidized by faculty research funds. So I think that’s something to celebrate – DMS faculty collectively came together to demonstrate that we’re committed to improving diversity in the department.”

CIRCA partners with CT DEEP to implement Climate Justice Grants Pilot Program and Environmental Justice Screening Tool

The purpose of the Climate Justice Grants project is to develop and implement a grant program to support equity and environmental justice organizations as community partners for climate planning in Connecticut. Recommendation 1 of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) Phase 1 report (2021) reads: “Develop and identify funding for a community engagement strategy to inform the 2021 GC3 planning process and implementation, including support in the form of grants for partnering with community-based, non-governmental organizations to design the community engagement process, receive training, and co-develop recommendations to ensure meaningful input and equitable approaches to mitigation and adaptation.” The Climate Equity and Justice Grant Program will serve as a pilot to design this type of program for Connecticut. The primary purpose of the pilot will be to lower barriers and facilitate the participation of community partners in the implementation of the recommendations of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change and to support “hyper-local” climate planning in their communities.

As a recommendation of the Equity and Environmental Justice workgroup of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3), CIRCA partnered with DEEP to create the purpose of the Environmental Justice Screening tool project. The project aims to identify vulnerable populations that may be disproportionately impacted by programs, policies, or projects and inform initiatives for creating healthy communities. This project aims to build a community-state partnership to spatially represent environmental and demographic indicators, using deep community engagement and existing data efforts underway across the state. The tool intends to serve the state in various ways, including communication of the disproportionate impacts placed upon communities across Connecticut, informing department and agency actions concerning enforcement, permitting, assessing populations vulnerable to climate change, and supporting policy and legislation that seeks to address the institutional inequities.

Dr. Heidi Dierssen Leads Working Group on Benthic Reflectance

Professor Heidi Dierssen leads an international working group on Benthic Reflectance measurements. The group held their inaugural meeting at the University of Miami from 29-31 March 2022. Benthic reflectance is a measurement describing the color of the seafloor, and is an essential parameter for mapping marine habitats in optically shallow water using remote sensing techniques.  Brandon Russell (pictured 2nd  from right), graduate of UConn Marine Sciences, built a dive spectrometer and is a member of the group. The aim is to produce a report for the International Ocean Color Coordinating Group (IOCCG). Read more about this group here.

Dierssen (4th from left) and the Benthic Reflectance Group

New Faculty Member Dr. Cara Manning Joins DMS

In January of 2022, Dr. Cara Manning joined the faculty of the Department of Marine Sciences. Dr. Manning hails from Vancouver Island, Canada and has a PhD in Oceanography from the MIT-WHOI Joint Program  in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. This interview was carried out by Emma Shipley, a current graduate student, on February 15th, 2022.

Dr. Cara Manning

Manning’s first foray into ocean sciences was during her first year in her undergraduate program. On her discovered interest in the field, she says “I really liked it because it allows you to take all these different pieces of science, like chemistry and physics and biology, and integrate them to understand the real world.” After an intensive summer program in ocean sciences that included both field and lab work, she began gathering research experience. Eventually, her doctoral research focused on using oxygen as a tracer of productivity in the ocean, and using noble gases to distinguish between physical and biological fluxes of oxygen. Following a postdoc at the University of British Columbia and a position as a research scientist at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Dr. Manning joined DMS during the Environment and Human Interactions cluster hire.

The cluster hire was intended to recruit professors who have complementary expertise related to human interactions with the environment, and to foster cross-disciplinary scholarship involving multiple departments within the college. Manning is working with other professors in the cluster to develop one or more courses that could cover a range of topics in marine and social sciences. She says, “We’re talking about the opportunity to develop a cross-taught course that would include social sciences and science perspectives at the same time to understand environmental processes or environmental policy. We think that it’s really valuable for students that are majoring in science to get the perspectives of social science and vice versa so that we’re learning from each other to really understand environmental processes that have social implications.” This class could cover important topics such as climate change or nutrient pollution, and would be a valuable addition to the departmental curricula. 

At UConn, Dr. Manning’s lab will be focused on dissolved gas biogeochemistry and other tracers, and using these measurements to understand biological, physical, and chemical processes in the ocean. She plans to begin measurements to understand the coastal biogeochemistry in Long Island Sound as well as further afield continuing her previous work in the Arctic. She is excited to start building her lab. “There’s going to be a lot of field work up front, but there’s also going to be a lot of method development to start. The first ocean samples that we run will be really exciting because they’ll be something that my lab has set up together from scratch.”

Dr. Cara Manning at sea

While starting as a new faculty member can be challenging, especially during uncertain COVID times, Manning is ready for the challenge. Since she has been out of the US for the last five years, some of her first priorities are understanding the funding sources and building her collaborative network. Describing herself as “a really collaborative person,” Manning cites the ability to work with professors who “speak her language” right down the hall as one of the big factors that drew her to the department. 

Outside of work, she enjoys the experimentation and discovery that come along with a vegan diet. During COVID she learned how to culture microbes for vegan cheesemaking, and has been working on strength training in the gym. She looks forward to discovering what Connecticut has to offer for biking trails when the weather warms up.