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UNF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program in Coastal Biology

Starting in 2013, the University of North Florida became one of the newest host sites for the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program. The UNF REU Program offers paid research training experiences in Coastal Biology to 10 undergraduate students during a 10-week period between late May and late July. REU participants are paired with Coastal Biologists at UNF, the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR) and conduct mentored research projects related to their advisor’s expertise. Prior to this, students complete a 1-week orientation to performing research in Coastal Biology to prepare them for their directed research projects. Students also gain experience in science communication by presenting the results of their project at a departmental-wide research poster mini-symposium. Participants attend research seminars and workshops on career skills in science. Students may also have the opportunity to present their research findings at professional conferences.

Funding for this REU site is provided by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Science's located in Arlington, VA. The NSF contact for this program is Elizabeth Rom. NSF does not handle REU applications; please contact each REU site directly for application information.

About the UNF REU Program

Overview 

Beginning in 2013, the University of North Florida became one of the newest host sites for the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program.  The UNF REU Program offers paid research training experiences in Coastal Biology to 10 undergraduate students during a 10-week period from late May-late July. REU participants are paired with Coastal Biologists at UNF and the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR) and conduct mentored research projects related to their advisor’s expertise.  Prior to this, students will complete a 1-week orientation on performing research in Coastal Biology to prepare them for their directed research projects.  Students will also gain experience in science communication by presenting the results of their project at a departmental-wide research poster mini-symposium.  Participants will attend research seminars and workshops on career skills in science.  Students may also have the opportunity to present their research findings at professional conferences.

Dates

Information about a possible program for 2023 will be coming soon.

Eligibility 

To be eligible for the 2022 UNF REU Program, students must be: 

  • U.S. Citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. or its possessions
  • Enrolled in a degree program (part-time or full-time) leading to a baccalaureate degree.
  • Available for the full duration of the program (some exceptions possible)

Freshman- and Sophomore-level science students and students from minority groups underrepresented in science (African Americans, Latinos and Hispanics, Native Americans, Native Pacific Islanders, and Alaskan Natives) are especially encouraged to apply!

Stipends, travel and housing information

Students participating in the UNF REU Program receive:

  • $5,500 stipend over the 10-week period
  • Free housing in a UNF dormitory and meals
  • Support for travel expenses between UNF and their home institution

Application

More information will be coming soon about the 2023 applications.

About UNF 

UNF is a 40-year old, comprehensive public university situated on ~1,300 acres of scenic timberland located 7 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and 12 miles southeast of the urban setting of downtown Jacksonville, FL.  Because of its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway, the St. Johns River, and the GTMNERR, UNF is uniquely suited to serve as a base for contemporary research in Coastal Biology.

Questions? 

Email your questions to REU@unf.edu with the subject heading “UNF REU Program”.

Note: This REU Site is funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences, and the cognizant Program Director for all OCE-funded REU sites is Lisa Rom at elrom@NSF.gov or (703) 292-7709.  Since the application deadline for the UNF REU Program fall after March 15th, this rule is not applicable to this program, and is only stated here for informational purposes.  Questions regarding the application and/or selection process for the UNF REU Program should be sent directly to REU@unf.edu not NSF.

Apply for the UNF REU Program

Applicants for the UNF REU Program will need to complete an online application form. In addition to this form, students must also submit the following items, preferably in one email (excluding recommendation letters).

  1. A one- to two-page resume or curriculum vitae describing any relevant jobs, internships, volunteer work, scholarships and/or other activities that you have held or participated in and other skills or accomplishments that you wish to identify.
  2. A one- to two-page Statement of Interest describing your interests and career goals, the reasons why you hope to be selected for the program, how participation in the program will influence your career development, and the top two mentors that you hope to work with and why.
  3. An electronic copy of your current college transcript. UNOFFICIAL TRANSCRIPTS ARE PREFERRED.
  4. Two letters of recommendation from individuals capable of commenting in your academic qualifications. Letters of recommendation MUST be sent from the person writing the letter, preferably via email to REU@unf.edu either as an attachment or within the body of the email.

Information about a possible program for 2023 will be coming soon.

Research mentors and projects for the 2022 UNF REU Program

Check back regularly. More REU mentors will be added shortly!

Dr. Nikki Dix, Estuarine Ecology for Coastal Management

Dr. Dix is off campus at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (www.gtmnerr.org) where she serves as Research Director. The research program at GTMNERR is founded in long-term monitoring of weather, water quality, plankton, salt marshes, and oyster reefs. The selected REU student will work on a project to assist the GTMNERR in implementing high-frequency monitoring of chlorophyll a following recommendations developed in this national project: https://nerrssciencecollaborative.org/project/Dix20

Concentrations of the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll a are used as a proxy for phytoplankton biomass by estuarine scientists and managers to study eutrophication, food web dynamics, and harmful algal blooms. Traditionally, chlorophyll has been measured by filtering a water sample and extracting pigments from the filter in a laboratory; however, monthly measurements are not sufficient for tracking plankton dynamics, which fluctuate hourly. Recent sensor technology allows high-frequency, in situ measurement of chlorophyll on the same YSI EXO sondes used in the NERRS long-term water quality monitoring program. However, particles and dissolved organic matter in the water can interfere with sensor fluorescence measurements. The REU student will assist GTMNERR staff in running experiments to develop corrections for those interfering variables. Skills learned specific to this project will include YSI EXO data sonde calibrations and maintenance, experimental design and implementation, data management, and coding with R programming language.

Dr. Jim Gelsleichter, Shark Biology, Physiology, and Ecotoxicology

Dr. Gelsleichter's research program focuses on population ecology, reproductive biology, and ecotoxicology of fish, particularly sharks and their relatives. REU students working with Dr. Gelsleichter will conduct research projects focused on a diverse number of topics such as shark abundance in northeast Florida waters, the roles of gonadal steroids in shark sexual differentiation, stress responses in sharks, reproductive effects of methylmercury, and the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Gulf of Mexico fishes.

Dr. Quincy Gibson, Dolphin Population Dynamics

Dr. Gibson's research is focused on the behavioral ecology of marine mammals, with an emphasis on social complexity and population dynamics. REU students working with Dr. Gibson participate in weekly boat-based photo-identification and behavioral surveys of estuarine bottlenose dolphins in the St. Johns River (SJR). Past student's projects have examined the link between female dolphin sociality and reproductive success, the impact of a large-scale unusual mortality event on SJR dolphins, and the prevalence of skin lesions as a non-invasive indicator of dolphin health.

Dr. Matt Gilg, Evolutionary Genetics

Dr. Gilg’s research program focuses on exploring the genetic basis of traits important for response to climate change, invasive species management and the evolutionary implications of hybridization.  REU students working with Dr. Gilg will conduct research projects focused on tolerance of coral species to stressors like elevated temperature and light intensity, the genetic diversity of introduced species of marine mussels, or the role habitat plays in hybridization of local killifish species. 

Dr. Laura Habegger, Functional Morphology in Fishes

Dr. Habegger is a functional morphologist interested in understanding how form affects the function of a variety of structural components in vertebrates, particularly fishes. Her research interests are wide ranging from the estimation of bite forces among marine top marine predators to the elucidation of the osteological composition and formation of extreme skull adaptations. Students working with Dr. Habegger will be involved in one of the three following topics:

  1. investigating the osteological development of different skull components in pelagic fish larvae
  2. characterizing major structural differences on the skin of sharks and rays,
  3. characterizing fish otolith (ear stones) morphology from a material science standpoint to understand its potential significance in fish hearing.

Dr. Amy Lane, Biochemical identification of natural products from marine microorganisms

Dr. Lane utilizes marine microorganisms to isolate organic molecules known as natural products. Natural products are promising lead compounds for the development of new antibiotics and act as the "words" of chemical languages "spoken" by microorganisms. These chemical communication signals drive interactions between organisms, including symbiosis, competition, and host-pathogen interactions. Deciphering the meaning of chemical signals enables understanding of marine microbial biodiversity and opens doors for improving marine ecosystem health. NSF REU fellows in the Lane group will select from the following projects:

  1. evaluating natural products as chemical weapons utilized by marine microorganisms to thwart their competitors; or,
  2. identifying genes and enzymes employed by marine microorganisms to assemble natural products that act as chemical weapons and as potential human antibiotics.

Dr. Frank Smith, Genomics and Developmental Genetics

Research in Dr. Frank Smith's lab follows a comparative approach to genomics and developmental genetics to study the origin and diversification of animal body plans. The evolution of the jointed legs that are characteristic of arthropods is thought to have contributed to their evolutionary success. Tardigrades are closely related to arthropods, but unlike arthropods, they retain the unjointed legs that were present in the common ancestor of these two lineages. The summer research project in the Smith lab will focus on identifying homologs of the genes that control leg development in arthropods in a genome of a tardigrade and determining the function of these genes during tardigrade development. Results of this study will provide insight into how jointed appendages evolved in the arthropod lineage.

Dr. Kelly Smith, Restoration Ecology of Coastal Fish Habitats

Dr. Kelly Smith’s interests focus on juvenile fish ecology in estuarine environments and reducing human impacts on the habitat quality for these fishes. Many coastal areas of Northeast Florida are experiencing severe erosion problems, reducing available fish habitat. The lab group is investigating methods for reducing loss of these habitats. Interested students will be able to develop and work on projects associated with shoreline restoration of oyster and salt marsh habitat within both a National Estuarine Research Reserve (Guana Tolomato Matanzas) and a National Park (Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve). Potential projects include

  1. assessing use of restored substrates by mobile invertebrates at varying inundation levels
  2. interpreting video records of habitat use by large motile predators assessing sediment dynamics and benthic infauna in restored habitats
  3. assessing sediment dynamics and benthic infauna in restored habitats

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is home to over 2000 animals. Within the zoo, the Wildlife Wellness division conducts welfare and wellness related research to ensure that animals living in our care are given opportunities to thrive.  REU students will contribute to research projects focused on a diverse number of species ranging from apes and cheetahs to Komodo dragons and stingrays.  Students will learn a number of skills including use of behavioral (e.g. ZooMonitor) and statistical (e.g. R) software.  Students will conduct mentored research projects focused on aquatic species.

SEZARC

The South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation is dedicated to increasing populations of rare and endangered species through reproductive science. SEZARC scientists perform reproductive health assessments, develop breeding plans, and conduct investigative research for zoo and aquarium species throughout the United States. Projects for this program will focus on enzyme immunoassay of biological samples from nurse sharks, zebra sharks, sand tiger sharks, manta rays or other elasmobranch species to better understand their reproductive biology and to support natural and assisted reproduction programs. We plan to include high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) in the validation process for those assays. The student will be based at our laboratory in the Biology building at UNF.