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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Mystic Aquarium announces major National Science Foundation grant

Hopefully, this will not be the last of its kind

Image result for mystic aquarium educationEDITOR’S NOTE: This is yet another example of a federal program that may not exist for much longer if Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress continue their War on Science. – W. Collette

Mystic Aquarium in collaboration with the University of Connecticut’s Department of Marine Sciences at Avery Point (UConn-DMS), has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation.  Mystic Aquarium is the first aquarium in the nation to be selected for such a grant.

Taking advantage of the expertise and partnership of two leading research and educational establishments focused on marine sciences, the $283,827 grant will develop and implement the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) at UConn’s and Mystic Aquarium’s research laboratories, both located at UConn’s Avery Point campus.

This award is supported by the Division of Biological Infrastructure in the Directorate for Biological Sciences and the Division of Oceanic Sciences in the Directorate for Geosciences.

Led by Mystic Aquarium’s Chief Scientist, Tracy Romano, Ph.D., and UConn Avery Point faculty member in ecology and evolutionary biology Michael Finiguerra, students will engage in research projects investigating the overarching question of: How do environmental stressors affect the physiology, behavior, and ecology of phytoplankton and marine animals in relation to the marine ecosystem? 

The three-year project will connect undergraduate students with established research mentors to investigate how global environmental change affects marine animals and their ecosystems. 

"This award is a testimony to the depth and quality of Mystic Aquarium's marine science research focus,” said Mystic Aquarium President and CEO, Dr. Stephen M. Coan. “For over 40 years we have recognized that research is core to our mission."

Students will be offered a broad range of mentored research topics designed to support their investigation in relation to multiple trophic levels of the marine ecosystem.

Regular trips to Mystic Aquarium will be a major component, including educational tours, animal and ecosystem exhibit observations, job shadowing, group professional development seminars, and interaction with Aquarium resources as well as the general public.

Mentors include Mystic Aquarium scientists Dr. Tracy Romano (PI and project leader) and Dr. Paul Anderson, as well as UConn-DMS scientists Dr. Heidi Dierssen, Dr. Ann Bucklin, Dr. Hans Dam, Dr. George McManus, Dr. Evan Ward, and Dr. Hannes Baumann. Co-PI, Dr. Michael Finiguerra, a former REU student, will organize the day-to day operations of the REU.

“UConn Avery Point has a close relationship with Mystic Aquarium, and that strong foundation positions us to share our regional resources and expertise nationally with deserving future scientists,” said Annemarie Seifert, director of UConn Avery Point. “We are very excited to welcome diverse students from around the country to the University of Connecticut, the Avery Point campus, and our distinct maritime region.”

A total of 24 students – eight per year – will participate in the 10-week program that will give students a chance to develop scientific laboratory and field-based research skills. They will receive a stipend, housing, and meal and travel allowances.

Students will be selected based on a personal statement of interest in marine sciences, academic record, letters of recommendation, and explanation of desired research mentors. 

“The base of students for this program will be recruited from underrepresented minority ethnic groups, particularly American Indians and Alaskan Natives, as well as academic institutions where research opportunities in STEM are limited,” said Dr. Tracy Romano, Vice President of Research and Chief Scientist for Mystic Aquarium.

Programming will take place during the summers of 2017, 2018 and 2019.

“Anthropogenic and environmental stressors such as pollution and climate change are increasingly more threatening to marine ecosystems across the globe; further highlighting the critical need for researchers of today and tomorrow to better understand the impacts of these stressors on animals and their ecosystems,” added Romano.

The overarching project goal is to provide students with an immersive research experience that encourages them to pursue postgraduate studies and/or careers in marine science or other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.  The REU will culminate in student presentations at the Aquarium for both scientific and public audiences.

“Our objective is that this project will have a broader impact on the future STEM workforce by increasing its diversity-promoting scientific literacy in underrepresented communities and science arenas at large and exposing students with expanded STEM career opportunities,” added Dr. Coan.

More information about the program including the application process is available by visiting or by email at or