Vivian Yao, 2017, Geosciences

As an undergraduate researcher stationed at Bermuda Institute of Oceanic Sciences (BIOS), I worked with 90 individual coral samples during an experiment on coral bleaching. Like all animals, corals become sick when they are stressed. The health of corals is rapidly declining in some areas of the world due to acidic waters created by increases in reef temperatures. Corals host photosynthetic algae zooxanthellae (zoox) that help them create proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to use. When corals stress, they kick out their zoox, producing a whitening effect on the corals called bleaching. I studied this bleaching process by monitoring and analyzing various measurements that relate to the corals’ health including tissue color, body weight, and zoox photosynthesis levels using state-of-the-art scientific instruments such as an underwater fluorometer and a spectrophotometric pH setup. I also spent many days on board the research vessel and underwater collecting water and algae samples, and examining overall Bermuda reef health. Working alongside highly accomplished Ph.D. students and professors both in the lab and in the field has not only honed my understanding of the “methods” section in scientific papers, but has also inspired me to continue conducting lab work on corals and reef water at Princeton.