Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hi everyone! My name is Colbi Gemmell and I am the Outreach Coordinator for DROPPS. I conduct outreach and educational activities related to our research such as: K-12 classroom visits, participation in local events, keeping up with social media, and coordinating news about our team members. I have also been organizing the DROPPS reading group which is comprised of ten DROPPS graduate students, post-docs, and staff members. Participants are from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (Hernando Bacosa, Meredith Evans, Brad Gemmell, Colbi Gemmell, and Tracy Harvey), Johns Hopkins University (Cheng Li and David Murphy), Texas Tech University (Maryam Jalali-Mousavi), and the University of Pennsylvania (Tagbo Niepa and Liana Vaccari).

In December of 2013, the DROPPS reading group began as a monthly meeting where members got together to discuss papers relevant to the field of oil spill science. After a few of these meetings, the group determined that we wanted to do more than simply discuss the current literature. DROPPS Research Associate Dr. Brad Gemmell came up with the idea of conducting an extensive oil spill literature review with the goal of putting together a publishable manuscript on global, long-term trends. The idea was based on reading groups that he had previously been involved in. The group agreed that this was an exciting direction that allowed group members exposure to a large portion of oil spill literature across a wide variety of years and disciplines. The group worked together to develop a plan for obtaining, analyzing and completing such a large literature review. 

After determining the keywords to use, important questions to be addressed and doing several rounds of controls to ensure consistency, the DROPPS reading group started the official literature review. Each participant had to review a predetermined number of papers for assigned years to ensure that we were reviewing at least 10% of the available literature during each 5-year period dating back to 1968. Data collection took a total of six weeks and included the review of approximately 1100 papers. Currently, participants are in the process of analyzing the data in order to start putting together the manuscript. We are really excited to see what story our data tells. 

Reading group members discuss oil spill papers during a recent meeting. 
Research sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hi! My name is Sarah Horn and I’m an undergraduate Biology student at University Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I’m working with Professor Rudi Strickler at the Global Water Center. I was given the opportunity to work with DROPPS through the UW-Milwaukee’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. I began working in the spring semester of 2014. 

Me feeding Daphnia an algae mixture.
I’m working on a project to observe how the freshwater zooplankton Daphnia pulex will react to oil droplets. Oil droplets of a set size are generated to simulate dispersed oil. Daphnia are placed in a Kreisel tank filled with oil droplets and algae. Water is pumped into the Kreisel tank creating a current along the edges of the tank, which keeps the Daphnia from getting too close to the edge. Daphnia behavior when surrounded by oil droplets is documented by taking a high speed video using laser holography. Using holography means that the Daphnia can be out of focus while it is being filmed, and reconstructed with imaging software later. This is necessary because of the Daphnia’s constant movement. After the video is taken, the size of oil droplets is measured to see if the Daphnia have attempted to eat the dispersed oil. Additionally, the behavior of Daphnia when surrounded by oil droplets is observed.

Kreisel tank
Freshwater zooplankton are used because they are easy for us to access. We get our zooplankton from the Menomonee River, Milwaukee River, Kinnickinnic River and Lake Michigan, all which are located less than a mile away from the lab. Once we obtain adequate results using the freshwater zooplanktona species of saltwater zooplankton will be used.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hi, everyone! My name is Meredith Evans; I am a graduate student at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) and of course, a DROPPSter. Here at UTMSI, I have had the opportunity to get involved with the DROPPS consortium thanks to my research on oil spills.
An oil sheen on the Gulf Coast in Port Aransas, TX.

As an aspiring Texan scientist, I have always had a critical view of the oil and gas industry. Although it is an established part of our culture and economy, I have come to recognize many of the negative ramifications it can have on our environment. With a large portion of drilling taking place offshore, many of these consequences occur in our oceans. Outside the devastation oil spills cause to marine plants and animals, crude oil input can cause major chemical shifts in the water column and sediment. Crude oil is a complex mixture of trace metals and hydrocarbons of varying length and shape. As the oil degrades from a variety of weathering processes, these compounds start to separate and transform. Some components will completely disappear, others will be modified, and some will be retained in the water and/or sediment for years. The story is never the same between oil spills; the remaining mixture of toxic compounds varies by location, bacterial composition, and a variety of other factors. I am interested in teasing apart these relationships and improving the methods scientists use to study oil spills so the industry can continue to thrive, but in a more environmentally responsible way.

Studying the chemistry of oil spills is an exciting field. Recently, I (like many beach goers) was combing the beach for interesting organisms. To my surprise, I found a significant number of tarballs on our beaches here in Port Aransas, TX. Tarballs are exactly what they sound like: sizeable lumps of rubbery tar. They are typically associated with offshore oil spills and formed after crude oil has been rolled around in the ocean. They come in all shapes and sizes and, in my opinion, are pretty unsightly for the beach.
A few of the tarballs I collected on the Gulf side of Mustang Island.

Most people who find them may assume them to be a unique rock or piece of coal from a barbecue. Individuals who are familiar with tarballs may think about the possible spill source, and how it may have affected species living in the area.  I, on the other hand, think about the compounds composing that tarball and what they can tell us. In our lab, we not only have the capacity to study tarball components to determine how much that tar has degraded, but we can also trace the source of that tar ball to see exactly where it came from and possibly how long it has been roaming the ocean. The tarballs I collected are currently in the freezer at UTMSI and will be analyzed soon. These kinds of discoveries are small, but give scientists and activists a better picture of how our oceans are responding to our oil consumption.
One of the algae beds I collected small tarballs from. 

Outside of tarballs, my current research focuses on using a new technique to study oil spills, ramped pyrolysis. Under the advisement of Dr. Zhanfei Liu, I am exploring the possibilities on what this technique can tell us about contaminated sediments and waters. Recently, ramped pyrolysis has been used to distinguish oil-based hydrocarbons from natural organic content in contaminated sediments and water. This technique is fast, efficient and is very useful when trying to explain organic matter in an oil-affected environment. Expanding on previous research, I hope to show how we can better use ramped pyrolysis to explain the oxygenated partition of degraded oil, which has recently been shown to be a significant product of weathering.
Some Summer Science students and me mimicking surface currents after an oil spill. 

In addition to the time I spend in the lab, I love participating in outreach opportunities where I can share my research and passions with the public. Recently, I was invited to participate in a program here at UTMSI called Summer Science. In this program, elementary and middle school students spend each day with a scientist, learning about what they do and why it is important. In my time at Summer Science, I taught students about how currents can affect oil spills. Working with 3rd – 5th graders, I was not expecting them to be knowledgeable about oil spills, but these students were sharp - they already knew a lot about how oil spreads and the damage it causes. This shows me that education and outreach about oil spills had already benefitted them (and hopefully, other students their age across the nation)! Personally, I hope to have expanded their knowledge even more and encouraged them to share the information with their friends and family, who may not have had similar exposure.
Summer Science students watching how and where the currents are moving the oil.

With expanding opportunities to learn and teach about oil spills, such as Summer Science and the DROPPS consortium, I am optimistic that scientific investigations and outreach about offshore drilling and oil spill clean up protocol can continue to improve into the future.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hello, my name is Lambert Aryee. I was one of 1783 finalists, from over 70 different countries and territories, that qualified for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) held in Los Angeles, California. I met numerous people of various ethnicities and backgrounds. I presented my science project on the dispersal of oil spills, which I worked on at the Johns Hopkins Oil Spill Lab during the past year.

Day One:
After arriving at the hotel in L.A., finalists were given the opportunity to officially meet with each other for the first time at the Pin Exchange Party. As a finalist from Maryland, my pins had the Maryland flag on them, and I was able to trade pins with 100s of finalists from countries like China, Japan, Mexico, Germany, Russia, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Additionally, the United States was heavily represented as nearly all 50 states had finalists from local and regional fairs. I met people from Texas, Ohio, California, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, Illinois, Connecticut, Hawaii, and numerous other states.

Day Two:
This day was designated for set-up and inspection of the finalists' boards. The judging halls were open at 9am for finalists. All stations and boards were inspected by an ISEF staff member. Once I had passed my inspection and made sure that everything was in perfect condition, I was able to explore the city of L.A. with Darius Johnson, another finalist, and our mentors. We drove through the mountains and up into the valley, saw the Hollywood sign, explored Beverly Hills, and visited the Getty Museum which is filled with some of the best art pieces in the world. That night, a party was hosted for the finalists in front of the Staples Center at Club Nokia. This was the time for finalists to have a little fun because the next day was Grand Prize and Special Awards judging day.

Day Three:
The day officially began at 8am and ended at 5pm. All judges evaluated projects within their area of expertise. I had approximately 8-12 judges, of which 6 were scheduled to judge my project. The rest were either special awards judges or just spectator judges on break. After judging was over, ISEF rented out Universal Studios for all finalists, student observers, and mentors to go and celebrate the long and stressful day of presenting. We were at Universal from 7pm to 12pm.

Day Four:
This day was open to the public, so schools and science fair enthusiasts from the L.A. area came and listened to our presentations. This was also an opportunity for the media to come and interview the finalists and know more about their projects. I had the honor of being interviewed by a local news crew and an Innovations blogger. It was a more relaxed day. That night was the special awards ceremony. Many finalists received awards from organizations, universities, and research groups.

Day Five:
This day was the grand prize award and closing ceremony. I won a fourth place award in the category of Environmental Management with my project Dispersing Oil Slicks: Impact of Droplets on a Floating Oil Layer!   

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

During the spring semester, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) was host to the undergraduate program “Semester by the Sea”. This program allows undergraduates from the University of Texas at Austin (UT) to come down to Port Aransas for a semester to take marine science courses and perform independent research in a faculty member’s lab. As a Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) funded consortium, DROPPS is always looking for ways to incorporate GoMRI legacy goals. One of these goals is to inform and train future scientists and engineers. DROPPS participation in Semester by the Sea does just that. Students are placed into specific labs based on their research interests. As a result of this selection process, DROPPS had three students participate in the program: Sara Garcia, Andrew Kang, and Donald Flynn.
DROPPS Semester by the Sea students (L to R): Andrew Kang, Sara Garcia, and Donald Flynn
Sara is currently a junior at UT, majoring in marine science and business foundations. She was selected to work in DROPPS consortium director Dr. Ed Buskey’s lab and was mentored by DROPPS Research Associate Dr. Brad Gemmell. Sara was initially interested in joining an oil spill science lab because her family works in the oil and gas industry. She has a strong interest in how human-caused impacts, such as oil spills, affect the environment. Her independent research project looked at the impact that oil, dispersant, and oil+dispersant had on the swimming behavior of barnacle nauplii. Sara found that crude oil and oil+dispersant had a negative impact on the swimming velocity of the nauplii, but she did not find this same effect using dispersant alone. In addition to performing research in the lab, Sara was able to assist with numerous DROPPS outreach activities including school visits and science nights.          
Sara Garcia participates in a DROPPS outreach event. 
When speaking about her experience with DROPPS, Sara had the following to say: 
“Working in the lab this semester was both exciting and rewarding. I really enjoyed learning different lab techniques, software, and how to formulate and analyze data. It was a great opportunity to be able to learn from and be supported by a knowledgeable community. Also, being able to do outreach opportunities locally has been a fun and an interactive opportunity to share what I'm learning.”
Andrew Kang presents his research during the Semester by the Sea Research Symposium.
Andrew is a senior at UT. He worked in the lab of Dr. Zhanfei Liu, a DROPPS Co-PI, and was co-mentored by DROPPS Post-doctoral Fellow Dr. Hernando Bacosa and Research Scientist Jiqing Liu. Andrew wanted to perform research in an oil spill lab because he thought it would be important to contribute to a collective effort on understanding the effects of oil spills. Andrew studied the bacterial breakdown of n-alkanes compounds in crude oil. Andrew looked at the degradation rate in three different concentrations of oil.  The most interesting thing he found was that the bacteria were still very effective in degrading the oil even though the oil was present at high concentrations. Like Sara, Andrew enjoyed his lab experience immensely and had the following to say:
“I worked with a number of knowledgeable, amiable, and helpful scientists in the lab. These people helped and guided me along the way so that I can understand and know what I was doing. My mentor, Dr. Zhanfei Liu, provided me with a mindset to approach my research so that I could enjoy and be confident in what I was doing.”
Donald Flynn gives his presentation during the Semester by the Sea Research Symposium.
Donald is currently a junior at UT. He worked in DROPPS Co-PI Dr. Deana Erdner’s lab and was also mentored Dr. Hernando Bacosa. While not initially interested in working in an oil spill lab, by the end of the semester he was glad he did. Donald is originally from New Orleans, LA, so researching the impacts that the Deepwater Horizon spill had on the environment hit close to home. Donald investigated the effects of two toxic hydrocarbons on the phytoplankton species Alexandrium tamarense.  He found that the phytoplankton was more resilient to toxins when associated with natural bacteria assemblages.  Donald also had great things to say about his experience:
I got to work with very talented post docs and professors that helped me learn a wide variety of skills in the laboratory. I got to work with various chemicals and appliances, and develop my abilities as a researcher far more than I expected to in just one semester. Most of all I got the thrill of seeing my hard work in the laboratory lead to some very interesting and meaningful results."
DROPPS participation in Semester by the Sea was a huge success. The students found interesting results and gained hands-on experiences in the scientific method. Additionally, all three students said that as result of their experience, they are now interested in going to graduate school and pursuing scientific research as a career. Sara and Andrew will be continuing their projects this summer when they come back to Port Aransas to take summer courses. The Semester by the Sea program gave out a national travel meeting award and a regional travel meeting award to the students who excelled in their research and presentations. Sara was awarded the national travel meeting award and Andrew was awarded the regional travel meeting award. The consortium is proud of these three DROPPSters and we look forward to seeing where their scientific futures will take them. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hello! My name is Lambert Aryee. I am a high school senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Poly). I am involved in the Research Practicum curriculum offered at Poly. The Research Practicum course allows students like me an opportunity to experience the life of research in a real institutional facility, such as the one here at Johns Hopkins. Currently, I am researching in the Oil Spill lab under the supervision of David Murphy, a postdoctoral fellow here at the Homewood Campus. I am a rookie to the DROPPster world. I am a full-time student at Poly and a visiting undergraduate student here at Hopkins. I started my research journey in September and will conclude in May.

Lambert Aryee, Class of 2014

On a daily basis, I arrive at Hopkins around 1:00 pm and meet David to discuss the objective of that particular day. I have performed most aspects of conducting a successful research experiment. I have read journal articles and written summaries about them. I have also started working on my mini-project for the year. My project involves using the simple piezoelectric droplet generator (Yang et al 1997) to visualize the impact dispersant droplets have on an oil slick. With this information, I will be able to understand the physics of the process so we can know the ideal droplet size relative to oil slick properties.

Re-design of Simple Piezoelectric Droplet Generator (Yang et al 1997)

My experiment involves the use of seawater, which we will mix in the lab, and dispersants which are liquid blends of surfactants and solvents designed to speed breakup of oil slicks into fine droplets that disperse naturally in the sea. 

Special salt used to create seawater for experiments.

Having the opportunity to conduct research in an environment like the one provided to me here at the Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus is a dream come true. I look forward to coming to the lab every day. Soon, I will be attending college, and the experience I have encountered here will transfer into shaping my future as I pursue the field of mechanical engineering. I love the opportunity I have here at Hopkins, and would not exchange it for another!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Greetings from Ed Buskey, the PI for the DROPPS consortium.  Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an International Symposium on Deep Sea Oil Spills in Qingdao, China. I was invited by Piers Chapman, the PI and director of the GISR Consortium at Texas A&M University (TAMU), College Station. Even though I already had travel plans for the weeks before and after this meeting, I decided I could not pass up this opportunity.

Traveling to Qingdao was quite the experience. I left at 7 AM on a Saturday morning and first flew from Corpus Christi to Houston, where I met up with my colleagues from TAMU. We then flew to Chicago where we caught a non-stop, 13 hour flight to Beijing, China, which took us over the North Pole. Our last flight was a short one to Qingdao on the coast of China, followed by a long drive to our hotel. With the 11 hour time difference it was about 9 pm on Sunday night when I finally got to sleep in my hotel bed.

Qingdao waterfront

The meeting started the next morning at 9 am. We had 12 speakers the first day and 6 speakers on the second day, with a mix of Chinese scientists and guest speakers from the US and Australia, each with 30 minutes to present.  There was a lot of interest and discussion of subsurface application of dispersants at the wellhead, pointing out the advantages of this approach including the longer time it takes for droplets to reach the surface (days to weeks versus hours), the larger surface area for dissolution of soluble compounds and colonization by hydrocarbon degrading bacteria, and the more rapid dilution of toxic compounds. Oil that reaches the surface may be skimmed under ideal conditions, but if it reaches sensitive coastal habitats attempts to remove the oil may cause more damage than the oil itself. Oil that reaches vegetated shorelines will often kill the vegetation and increase erosion. Anaerobic sediments in many coastal habitats are not effective in breaking down petroleum hydrocarbons. Piers Chapman gave an overview of the research from the GOMRI GISR consortium, and I presented on the DROPPS consortium results.

We had a short opportunity to be tourists in Qingdao on Wednesday and Thursday before returning to the US. On Wednesday morning we visited Laoshan, a very tall mountain next to the sea that is home to a Taoist temple. In the afternoon we visited the Tsingtao Brewery, the second largest in China, which was started during the German occupation of this region of China early in the 20th Century. Of course our visit included some beer sampling.
Laoshan mountain and temple entrance

On Thursday we were given the opportunity to do some shopping. We visited an open market with lots of vendors where you have to haggle over the price. We also visited a green tea wholesale shop and a large department store.

Our Chinese hosts treated us exceptionally well, and we had the chance to share meals of seafood delicacies that included sea cucumber and other fish and shellfish that I was not always able to identify. Evening meals were always served on a circular table with a large glass “lazy susan” to allow easy sharing of food and beverages. Our Chinese hosts were very fond of making repeated toasts toasts with beer, wine or mao-tai, a very strong beverage that is over 50% alcohol! This definitely made it easier to eat some of the difficult to identify sea creatures our gracious hosts ordered for us.

Unidentified seafood at dumpling restaurant

Dinner on “beer street” with a traditional round table with lazy susan