Committee begins development on STEM capacity plan

Members of the Guam Science and Technology Steering Committee met on June 29 to discuss ways to bolster the island’s STEM capacity and improve connectivity throughout the Micronesia and the region. 

Comprised of 17 members from government, business, and academic communities, the committee oversees the Guam EPSCoR program’s Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO). The committee also oversees the Guam NASA EPSCoR program.   

Over the next three to six months, the committee will develop a five-year plan that will focus on achieving five objectives:  

  • Serve as a state-of-the-art regional research hub for Guam and the region  
  • Build STEM capacity through education and workforce development  
  • Support STEM infrastructure and identify opportunities in the public sector for potential economic activity  
  • Promote increased communication about STEM throughout Micronesia and the region for informed decision making, knowledge sharing, and continuing education  
  • Create a diversified economy  

“The plan is in development, but its purpose is to blend research knowledge and private sector, economic development, and government investment and effort into something that benefits our society,” said Dr. Robert Underwood, President Emeritus of the University of Guam, who serves as the committee’s vice chair. “First, we’re going to have to have some consultation from economic players – people who would inform us about what plans and activities they have in mind so that we’re informed as a committee.”  

Melanie Mendiola, the chief executive officer of the Guam Economic Development Authority, and Docomo Pacific President Roderick Boss were elected to serve as the committee’s co-chairs.  

Gary Hiles, the chief economist of the Guam Department of Labor, presented information gathered from census data about the categories of STEM employment possibilities and jobs available on Guam. During his presentation, Hiles noted that registered nurses, civil engineers, and computer specialists are the most common STEM occupations on the island.  

“Next time, we may hear from someone about the work they’re doing economically or for the military buildup,” said Underwood. “We may want the governor to talk about her vision, or the speaker to get the legislature’s opinion, or someone from the chamber of commerce. In my own mind, I’m trying to figure out how to best secure that input and see how we can benefit from that.” 

After Hiles’ presentation, the committee members discussed potential areas of economic and research activities to prioritize such as solid waste issues, application of marine science research, creating a teaching hospital for medical professionals, and cybersecurity development.  

At the end of the meeting, the committee members were tasked to indicate which two out of the five objectives they would like to work on. Teams will be organized around the objectives and additional members may be drawn from external sources in the private sector, government, and educational institutions.  

The board will meet on a bimonthly basis. The next anticipated meeting will be in August. Guam EPSCoR is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  

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Column: Hunger games on Guam’s reefs

World Reef Awareness Day on Tuesday provides a great opportunity to spotlight the unique natural heritage of Guam’s reefs and the strong cultural connection of the CHamoru people to this valuable resource.

In recent months, juvenile rabbitfish (mañahak) have traveled from various Micronesian islands to Guam and are now quarantining on the island’s reef flats. Much like our own children, these youngsters have an insatiable appetite and can curtail seaweed gardens on reefs where they couch surf.

In Pago Bay, extensive stands of the angel hair seaweed, a species that has been proliferating on Guam’s reefs since 2012, have now been decimated by these rabbitfish. This is a fine example of the biological control of a nuisance species without human assistance.

Bloom of angel hair seaweed in Pago Bay photo courtesy of Tom Schils

Stonefish in seaweed camo

Mañahak are not picky eaters and they happily feast on the diversity of seaweeds that reefs have to offer. The impact of the rabbitfish raid was striking when I was desperately searching for seaweed during a recent field trip in Pago Bay.

When a boulder generously covered with bright green tufts of seaweed caught my eye, I thought I had struck gold. While plucking off these tufts, the boulder suddenly aroused and charged off at a whipping speed. The two eyes on the boulder glanced back and I realized that this huge stonefish had capitalized on the existing food scarcity by using seaweed camouflage to deceive its rabbitfish prey.

Rabbitfish feasting on angel hair seaweed

Mass spawning

Some seaweeds are untouchable by grazing fish. Vivid green clumps of turtleweed (Chlorodesmis fastigiata) stand out on reefs but are not targeted by herbivorous fish because they contain toxins.

Like rabbitfish, turtleweed releases offspring en masse when the conditions for their survival are optimal. Rabbitfish runs have evolved into seasonal events that coincide with the main growing season of seaweeds.

The poisonous turtleweed courtesy of Tom Schils

Turtleweed is more selective in timing its reproduction. Episodes of mass spawning by this seaweed occur when bare patches of reef become available in the aftermath of storm events. At that point, turtleweed is fully committed to reproduction and the whole seaweed is converted into reproductive cells after which the parent plant dies.

Faking a poisonous appearance

The camouflage trick of stonefish is topped by the disguise-by-resemblance (mimicry) strategy of the Piti Bomb Holes seaweed (Rhipilia coppejansii). Guam is home to several species of Rhipilia, which all form distinctive spongy blades.

The Piti Bomb Holes seaweed is only found on Guam and is unique in forming green tufts of loose filaments that resemble turtleweed. The chemical composition of the Piti Bomb Holes seaweed is as of yet unknown, but its apparent similarity to poisonous turtleweed might ensure its survival on reefs where herbivores abound.

Piti Bomb Holes Seaweed, a turtleweed look-a-like photo courtesy of Tom Schils

Cultural traditions

Humans have become part of the natural dynamics on reefs. The mañahak season brings people together while catching, processing or feasting on this seasonal culinary delight. Observant fishermen are the first to witness the changes that are taking place on reefs. They have already adapted by using the overly abundant angel hair seaweed as fishing bait or as a crispy and tasty additive to salads.

Even in this day and age of magnificent nature documentaries and well stocked grocery stores, it remains important to celebrate and perpetuate cultural traditions that are deeply rooted in the island’s natural heritage. After all, such activities allow us to evaluate the health of our ecosystems and find solutions for environmental issues specific to Pacific islands.

Tom Schils is an EPSCoR Researcher and a professor of marine biology at the University of Guam with a research focus on the diversity and ecology of seaweeds in the tropical Pacific. He can be reached at 735-2185 or tschils@triton.uog.edu.

EPSCoR Summer Math Research Program SMRE Application Deadline Extended!

Guam, USA – May 19, 2021 – Are you a STEM undergraduate or recent graduate student interested in mathematics and ensuring the sustainability of our local environment? If you’re self-motivated, well-organized, and majoring in Mathematics, Biology, Computer Science, Engineering, or related field, Guam EPSCOR has a valuable summer research experiences for you — and it’s paid! 

The Guam EPSCoR Summer Math Research Program (SMRP) is extending an application deadline and seeking applications for:  

The Summer Math Research Experience (SMRE) is seven (7) weeks-long taking place from June 7th to July 24th, 2021. The SMRE aims to give qualified STEM undergraduate Sophomores, and Juniors an opportunity to participate in research experiences in the mathematical sciences, with applications in the natural sciences. Students will study mathematical models of coral reef responses to adverse effects and stressors such as bleaching, disease, low water flow, and high turbidity. Eligible applicants must have completed MA203: Calculus I or equivalent with a grade “B” or better. Selected applicants will be paid a stipend of $3,500, assigned a faculty mentor, gain skills in industry standard software, and more! For applications and more information please visit www.guamepscor.uog.edu/smre  

The Summer Math Research Assistant (SMRA) application window CLOSED on May 19, 2021. Thank you for your interest and please apply next summer.   

The program seeks to increase the number and diversity of students who choose careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). All qualified students are encouraged to apply, in particular women, minorities, and students with disabilities. 

The deadline to apply for SMRE is extended to 5 p.m. on May 26th, 2021. Accepted students will be notified by May 28th, 2021Late applications may be considered until all positions are filled.  For more information visit our web pages linked above or contact epscor.smrp@triton.uog.edu  

  

About Guam EPSCOR 

The Guam EPSCoR program at the University of Guam is funded by a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program for the Stimulation of Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The program aims to broaden the participation of underrepresented students in STEM fields through developing a research program that helps ensure the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems in the face of environmental change. Guam EPSCoR aims to situate Guam as a premier research and STEM education hub bolstering sustainability, economic development, and informed decision-making by engaging communities in 21st-century science. 

 

Biology student discovers two potentially new species from Yap

Gabriella Prelosky, an undergraduate biology student at the University of Guam, is in the process of naming two potentially new species of diatoms that she found while examining a mud sample from a mangrove in Yap. Diatoms are single-celled algae found in oceans, lakes, and rivers. 

“They’re primary producers, so they’re photosynthetic organisms,” said UOG Professor Emeritus of Biology Christopher Lobban, Prelosky’s mentor. “The other characteristic they have is that they’re the base of the food chain — they’re part of the reason why mangroves are rich areas. In freshwater studies, there’s been a push to know more about water quality, and diatoms act as water quality indicators.”

Prelosky is working in Lobban’s Microscopy Teaching & Research Laboratory on the UOG campus for a research fellowship with the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance program, a $10 million initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to broaden participation in STEM fields of students in U.S. territories and affiliated islands.

In studying the mud sample, Prelosky came across a very long figure. 

She said, “I took a couple pictures and showed it to Dr. Lobban, and he said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before.”’ 

Lobban sent the pictures to a colleague, who identified the specimen as a member of the genus Gompotheca.

“At that point, we started thinking that we found something new,” Lobban said. “There are only two species in the genus Gompotheca, and they’re both characterized as being very rare. One species had been studied in a scanning electron microscope, and we can see the differences between them, so we know it wasn’t that one. The second one doesn’t even look like it belongs in the same genus.” 

A few weeks later, Prelosky found the second potentially new species from the same sample.

“Dr. Lobban noticed that it looked like a different species,” Prelosky said. “But what was distinct about it is that it had these arches and these flaps. He looked more into it and said it was probably a new species as well.” 

According to Lobban, new species are being found all the time because marine tropical diatoms have not been extensively explored. Much of the literature on single-celled algae dates to the 1800s.

Both findings will officially be new species once a paper about the diatoms has been peer-reviewed and approved for publication.

‘I wanted to name them after people important to me’

In documenting and describing the species in a research paper, Prelosky will also get to name them. She announced the names at the first annual UOG STEM Conference, which took place virtually from April 16–17. 

“The first one is named Gompotheca marciae,” Prelosky said. “I talked to my parents about naming them after my two grandmothers: Mary from my dad’s side and Marcia from my mom’s. They have similar names, so it was easy to combine them.” 

Prelosky named the second one Campylodiscus tatreauae after Linda Tatreau, her former science teacher from George Washington High School. 

“I named it after her because she’s been such a helpful person in my journey to marine biology,” Prelosky said. “I thought it would be nice to name it after her because without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

The NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Alliance is administered by the Center for Island Sustainability and the Sea Grant program at the University of Guam and collaborates closely with the Guam EPSCoR program, also funded by the National Science Foundation.

Link to original article.

‘I think I’ve found my lifelong career’: Grad student publishes research as lead author

Justin T. Berg, a graduate student in the Master of Science in Biology program, has achieved a personal first and, in the process, solidified the direction he wants to go with his career. As of February, he became a published lead author of scientific research. 

It was a study, which was funded by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, on the effects of shade on corals’ recovery time from heat stress, or coral bleaching, events. The researchers found that both light and temperature work together in coral bleaching events and that shading them greatly assists their recovery time. The paper is published in the peer-reviewed Marine Biology Research journal.

“I think I’ve found my lifelong career, which is extremely exciting,” Berg said. “I don’t think I’ll ever look back.”

This was the first time Berg had ever gone through the full process of writing a scientific paper to getting a project peer reviewed and published. He received support along the way and credits the Guam NSF EPSCoR program as well as Assistant Professor Bastian Bentlage, who supervised and also co-authored the study.

“Being first author is huge, especially when you’re looking into applying for a Ph.D. program,” Berg said. “I want to be able to be a professor one day and teach students and give them the opportunities I had.” 

Bentlage said a team of undergraduate and high school interns brought in by the Guam EPSCoR and NSF INCLUDES programs were also crucial in helping with the project’s experimental design and data collection. 

“It wouldn’t have been possible without all these students who were so keen on learning something new and helping my lab develop new approaches to study corals for us to use and add to our portfolio of tools,” Bentlage said. “We really went on this journey together.” 

Berg is expected to receive his master’s in biology at the end of this semester. He earned his bachelor’s from the University of Delaware, double majoring in biology and pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences with a minor in chemistry.

Link to original article. 

Summer Research Positions Available with EPSCoR Math Summer Research Program 2021!

STEM Undergraduate and Recent Graduate Students:

Study mathematical modeling, gain research experience, and get paid for the summer! 

Guam, USA – May 12, 2021 – Are you a STEM undergraduate or recent graduate student interested in mathematics and ensuring the sustainability of our local environment? If you’re self-motivated, well-organized, and majoring in Mathematics, Biology, Computer Science, Engineering, or related field, Guam EPSCOR has a valuable summer research experiences for you — and it’s paid! 

The Guam EPSCoR Summer Math Research Program (SMRP) is seeking applicants for 2 (two) Summer Research positions:  

The Summer Math Research Experience (SMRE) is seven (7) weeks-long taking place from June 7th to July 24th, 2021. The SMRE aims to give qualified STEM undergraduate Sophomores, and Juniors an opportunity to participate in research experiences in the mathematical sciences, with applications in the natural sciences. Students will study mathematical models of coral reef responses to adverse effects and stressors such as bleaching, disease, low water flow, and high turbidity. Eligible applicants must have completed MA203: Calculus I or equivalent with a grade “B” or better. Selected applicants will be paid a stipend of $3,500, assigned a faculty mentor, gain skills in industry-standard software, and more! For applications and more information please visit www.guamepscor.uog.edu/smre  

The Summer Math Research Assistant (SMRA) is nine (9) weeks-long taking place from May 24th to July 24th, 2021. The SMRA aims to provide STEM undergraduate Seniors and recent graduates an opportunity to gain experience as research assistants and near-peer mentors for undergraduate participating in EPSCoR Summer Math Research Experience (SMRE). Assistants will also mentor participants of the National Research Experience for Undergraduates Program (NREUP), and Young Scholars Research Experience in Mathematics (YSREM) conducting modeling for the population dynamics studies of the invasive Coconut Rhinoceros Beatle and the parasitoid wasp attacking the Mariana Eight Spot Butterfly. Eligible applicants should be proficient in using LaTeX, Beamer MATLAB, and/or R. Selected applicants will be paid a stipend of $4,500. For applications or more information please visit www.guamepscor.uog.edu/smra  

The program seeks to increase the number and diversity of students who choose careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). All qualified students are encouraged to apply, in particular women, minorities, and students with disabilities. 

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on May 19th, 2021. Accepted students will be notified by May 21st, 2021. Late applications may be considered until all positions are filled.

For more information visit our web pages linked above or contact epscor.smrp@triton.uog.edu  

About Guam EPSCOR 

The Guam EPSCoR program at the University of Guam is funded by a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program for the Stimulation of Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The program aims to broaden the participation of underrepresented students in STEM fields through developing a research program that helps ensure the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems in the face of environmental change. Guam EPSCoR aims to situate Guam as a premier research and STEM education hub bolstering sustainability, economic development, and informed decision-making by engaging communities in 21st-century science. 

UOG study: Light, in addition to ocean temperature, plays role in coral bleaching

A study by University of Guam researchers has found that shade can mitigate the effects of heat stress on corals. The study, which was funded by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, was published in February in the peer-reviewed Marine Biology Research journal.

“We wanted to see what role light has in coral bleaching,” said UOG Assistant  Professor and EPSCoR Co-PI Bastian Bentlage, the supervisor and co-author of the study. “Usually, people talk about temperature as a cause for bleaching, but we show that both light and temperature work together.

Previous UOG research led by EPSCoR Lead Researcher Laurie J. Raymundo found that more than one-third of all coral reefs in Guam were killed from 2013 to 2017 over the course of multiple bleaching events. Coral bleaching is the process in which corals stressed by environmental changes expel the essential symbiotic algae that live in their tissues, causing them to turn white and often die.

This latest study examined the resilience of staghorn corals (Acropora cf. pulchra) in heightened seawater temperatures. This species of coral is one of Guam’s dominant reef-builders, and its habitats experience temperatures up to 97 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest months of the year, leaving it vulnerable to bleaching episodes and population decline.

A team of researchers — including lead author Justin T. Berg, a UOG graduate student and EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) studying biology; Charlotte M. David, an undergraduate student from the University of Plymouth (England), and Melissa Gabriel, a UOG graduate student and EPSCoR GRA studying environmental science — took coral samples from the Hagåtña reef flat and examined their health in the UOG Marine Laboratory under normal and elevated temperatures.

“One group was subjected to consistent baseline temperatures observed on Guam’s reef flats,” Bentlage said, “and another was set to temperatures that are projected to become the new normal over the next couple of decades.”  

The researchers found that the corals took three weeks to recover from a week-long heat stress event. The experiment was then replicated to see how the corals would react if they were given shade while subjected to warmer temperatures.

“We found that when we put the shading over coral with increased seawater temperatures, it greatly increased photosynthetic yield of the symbiotic algae. Shade made a huge difference for coral health when you have high temperatures,” Berg said.

Implications for reef management

Shading is a practice already used in coral nurseries, Bentlage said, but it may not be practical to shade whole reefs in the ocean. Future studies can look into practical ways to reduce the impact of light on corals, particularly as they recover from periods of elevated temperatures.

“We saw the corals recover rather slowly,” Berg said. “The length of recovery indicates that corals are vulnerable during this time and management efforts may be particularly necessary during this period to reduce coral mortality.” 

Berg said the new knowledge may also help inform the best locations to successfully outplant corals.

“For example, slightly turbid waters could provide some shading to corals, making them less likely to bleach during periods of elevated sea surface temperatures,” Berg said.

Staghorn corals in the reef flat off Hagåtña appear bleached as a response to stress from environmental changes. As one of Guam’s dominant reef-builders whose habitat experiences temperatures up to 97 degrees Fahrenheit, this species was used in a University of Guam study published in February that found that shade can mitigate the effects of heat stress on corals.

UOG welcomes back to shore the first Pacific Islander to reach the deepest point of the ocean

University of Guam President Thomas W. Krise, along with representatives from UOG Sea Grant and Guam EPSCoR, greeted Nicole Yamase on her return from the deepest known point in the world’s oceans on March 13, 2021, at the Port Authority of Guam.

Yamase, a native of Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Hawai’i, made history the week of March 8, 2021, as the first Pacific Islander to descend to the ocean’s deepest known point — the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.

Yamase’s voyage took place in the Limiting Factor, a commercial deep-submergence vehicle that holds the record for the deepest manned descent in the Challenger Deep. The full dive took 10 hours and reached 35,764 feet below sea level.

“This expedition was not only an opportunity to conduct science but also an opportunity to share my culture with the world,” Yamase said.

For her trip, Yamase brought two FSM flags along with a small wooden canoe in honor of her ancestors.

In addition to the UOG teams, Yamase was welcomed to shore by Port Authority General Manager Rory Respicio and representatives from the Micronesia Conservation Trust and The Micronesia Challenge.

As a recipient of the Bill Raynor Micronesia Challenge Scholarship, which is awarded through Micronesia Conservation Trust, Yamase was asked by the Micronesia Conservation Trust to represent the FSM on this voyage.

After departing on March 8 for a 30-hour journey to the Mariana Trench aboard the research vessel Pressure Drop, Yamase dove in the Limiting Factor, the world’s only private submersible capable of reaching “full ocean depth” of 36,000 feet. The vehicle, a Triton Submarines 36000/2, was piloted by Victor Vescovo, a world record holder, researcher, scientist, and adventurer.

“It was an honor to be there for Nicole when she returned to land and celebrate her historic accomplishment,” said Austin Shelton, director of UOG Sea Grant and a board member of the Micronesia Conservation Trust. “I’m so thankful and excited for all the new Micronesian marine scientists she is surely inspiring.”

Yamase’s research focuses on the effects of climate change on the marine plant community to help predict the future health of coral reefs. Yamase has now returned back to Hawaii to continue her doctoral studies.

In the past, the UOG Marine Laboratory has collaborated on voyages to the Mariana Trench, most notably on James Cameron’s National Geographic and Rolex Deepsea Challenger expedition in 2012.

Link to original article.

Prospective graduate students: Study coral reefs, gain research experience, have tuition waived, and earn $18,000!

Are you a prospective graduate student interested in ensuring the sustainability of coral reefs and the marine environment?

If you’re self-motivated, well-organized, and have a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Environmental Science, or related field, Guam EPSCOR has a valuable graduate student research experience for you — and it’s paid!

The Graduate Research Assistantship is a three-year-long program designed to train graduates in scientific research. Selected students will benefit from a tuition waiver of up to 12 credits per semester for the pursuit of a master’s degree, research training, faculty mentorship, possible travel opportunities, and an $18,000 annual stipend ($1,500 per month).

Selected applicants will choose to specialize from the following disciplines: Ecology, Genomics, and/or Oceanography. Depending on chosen specialization, students may learn about DNA extraction and sequencing and/or how to read and analyze data to characterize marine environments. The program may involve hands-on fieldwork to investigate coral reefs or to deploy and retrieve oceanographic instruments while working at the UOG Marine Laboratory. Graduate students will also receive support for their individual thesis defenses.

The program seeks to increase the number and diversity of students who choose careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). All qualified students are encouraged to apply, in particular women, minorities, and students with disabilities.

The deadline to apply is 5:00 pm on March 31, 2021, and accepted students will be notified by April 14, 2021.

Late applications may be considered until the UOG Masters Application Deadline, pending availability of positions.

For more information, contact Sho Hammond at hammonds@triton.uog.edu.

You may download an application by clicking the button below.

Undergrads: Study coral reefs, gain research experience, and get paid!

Are you an undergraduate student interested in ensuring the sustainability of coral reefs and the marine environment? If you’re self-motivated, well-organized, and trained in basic lab procedures and microscopy, Guam EPSCOR has a valuable student research experience for you — and it’s paid!

The Student Research Experience program, which will take place from January-December 2021, is designed to train undergraduates in scientific research specific to coral reef ecosystems. Selected students will benefit from research training, faculty mentorship, possible travel opportunities, and a stipend of $500 per month.

The program may involve hands-on fieldwork to investigate coral reefs or to deploy and retrieve oceanographic instruments as well as work in the UOG Marine Laboratory’s Molecular Lab. Students will learn about DNA extraction and sequencing and/or how to read and analyze data to characterize marine environments.

The program seeks to increase the number and diversity of students who choose careers in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). All qualified students are encouraged to apply, in particular women, minorities, and students with disabilities.

The University of Guam and the Research Corporation of the University of Guam are equal-opportunity employers that have received National Science Foundation funding to broaden the participation of underrepresented students in STEM fields.

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on Dec. 11, 2020, and accepted students will be notified by Dec. 18.

Requests for applications may be directed to Sho Hammond at hammonds@triton.uog.edu. For more information, visit www.guamespscor.uog.edu.

About Guam EPSCOR
The Guam EPSCOR program at the University of Guam is funded by a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The program aims to develop Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals & Oceans (GECCO) to ensure the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems in the face of environmental change. Guam EPSCoR aims to situate Guam as a premier research and STEM education hub bolstering sustainability, economic development, and informed decision-making by engaging communities in 21st-century science.

Link to original article: https://www.uog.edu/news-announcements/2020-2021/2020-uog-undergrads-epscor-program.php