The Charger Blog

Grants Support Faculty Members' Innovative Research with Students

Funding from the Quinnipiac River Fund has enabled several University of New Haven faculty members and students to explore local ecosystems and seek answers to questions that could impact the region and beyond.

July 29, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing & Communications

Ryan Owens ’21 M.S.
Ryan Owens ’21 M.S.

Ryan Owens ’21 M.S. is spending part of the summer diving into research that focuses on a type of algae that is presenting a global challenge. Ulva compressa forms blooms that have been found around the world, including locally in New Haven Harbor.

A candidate in the University’s graduate program in environmental science, Owens is working with Amy Carlile, Ph.D., an associate professor and chair of the University’s Biology and Environmental Science Department. They hope to gain a better understanding of why this species of algae is able to form blooms so successfully. They are studying its physiological response to temperature, salinity, and copper to learn more about its tolerance and how it might respond to climate changes as well as new pollutants.

“This has given me a great understanding of the process of organizing and planning research, since you have to accommodate nature's timeline first,” said Owens. “I am hoping to better understand how the environment can impact genetics, morphology, and physiology. I want to better myself as a researcher.”

Owens and Dr. Carlile have hypothesized that the algae’s physiological response to stress is regulated by changes in DNA methylation. They also hope to better understand why this species of algae is found in two very distinct forms: a flattened blade and a tube form.

'It's a great opportunity for us and our students'
Amy Carlile, Ph.D.
Amy Carlile, Ph.D.

Dr. Carlile was one of several University of New Haven professors who received funding from the Quinnipiac River Fund earlier this year to support research. She and her colleagues have been working with students to research ulvoid blooms in New Haven Harbor for the past several years, and she says this project follows up on their previous work examining bloom dynamics.

“The funding supports a high-level student project that otherwise would not be possible,” she said. “The Quinnipiac River Fund has been supporting work in our department for years now, and it's a great opportunity for us and our students to study the Quinnipiac River/New Haven Harbor ecosystem.”

Dr. Carlile’s research has included undergraduate students as well. Justine Rivera ’21, who also worked with Dr. Carlile as a member of the University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program last summer, has been recording daily progression of the research, as well as the DNA analysis of the samples collected.

“This project has not only solidified the knowledge and the skills that I have gained through previous classroom and research opportunities, but it has also given me the opportunity to learn new lab techniques and field research methods,” said Rivera, who is working under Dr. Carlile’s mentorship for her upcoming senior thesis. “These skills are important for me to develop as they will directly impact my future research efforts – as an undergraduate student, in graduate school, and in my career.”

'It is part of what makes the University of New Haven stand out'

Jean-Paul Simjouw, Ph.D., is also among the faculty who received funding from the Quinnipiac River Fund. His proposal, which he submitted with Christian Conroy, Ph.D., is to study the prevalence, concentration, and physical characteristics of microplastics in water and sediment samples. They will also be focusing on New Haven Harbor, as well as the lower Quinnipiac River and their fish communities, to better understand its health.

Dr. Simjouw says this study, which will also include students, is one of the first to focus on the impact of microplastics on natural populations. He hopes they will learn more about the prevalence of microplastics and their impact on fish communities.

“This is an example of our faculty developing novel research projects that are at the cutting edge of research in our fields,” said Dr. Simjouw, a marine biology and environmental science lecturer. “Projects like this are vital contributions to our – and the University’s – efforts to recruit and educate the next generation of scientists. It is part of what makes the University of New Haven stand out.”

'This project has challenged me to become more innovative'
Peter Abate
Peter Abate prepares a plankton net for a water sample tow.

Peter Abate ’21 M.S., a candidate in the University’s graduate program in environmental science, is working with Dr. Simjouw and Dr. Conroy. They have been conducting biweekly field sampling at sites along the Quinnipiac River and in New Haven Harbor, seining and studying the juvenile fish species at each site. They have been focusing on species such as summer flounder and black sea bass and also collecting water and sediment samples.

“While working on this project over the past month, I have learned how to overcome challenges that occur during field and lab work,” Abate said. “Since our sampling depends on the tide schedule, some days call for early mornings, where others call for later sampling in the evening. Therefore, you have to be able to adapt. This project has also challenged me to become more innovative and creative in coming up with solutions for the methodology of the project.”

His classmate, Owens, whose research is the foundation of her master’s thesis, says the experience has already had a meaningful impact on her experience as a graduate student and on her career plans.

“This research has piqued my interest in toxicology, genetics, and molecular biology,” she said. “I have begun looking into Ph.D. programs that focus on related topics.”