Being able to pursue a field of study through an in-depth internship is one of the opportunities most valued by St. Thomas Aquinas High School students. Two current seniors can testify to the extreme merits of STA internships as they make waves at the University of New Hampshire’s School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering. Abby Barnes and Clare MacRitchie have been working with research scientist Dr. Michael Chambers in an internship program that has them working intimately with genetic engineering. Their internship is supervised by STA science teacher (and UNH Research Experience for Teachers of Engineering (RETE) Participant), Piper Bartlett.
Twice a week, Abby and Clare travel after school to UNH. There, they work on an aquaculture project that has them studying the breeding patterns of clownfish and changing their patterns so as to study genetic engineering first-hand. “Each tank of fish has a different feeding method,” explains Clare. “We’re studying which type of feeding method helps the clownfish produce the most eggs.”
Clownfish begin life as genderless fish. The girls have learned, however, that once a hierarchy is established, the dominant fish will change into a female. They have also been able to study the intricate patterns that clownfish perform prior to laying their eggs.
Batch cultivation is the most common method of rotifer production in marine fish hatcheries. After growing a rotifer culture of the clownfish, Abby and Clare will create one of their own. Their internship will last throughout the school year and has been funded by the Lebor Grant, a $10,000 teacher grant established last year by the Schue Family. As part of the grant, each girl has received $500 by which to design and execute her own unique experiment.
“When I was in Kindergarten, I announced that wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved going on whale watches and I found the ocean fascinating,” recalls Clare. While Abby also enjoys marine biology, she admits she loves all the sciences. "I look forward to college when I can explore various areas of science. This has been a fascinating opportunity and I have gained such rich experience (like working directly with a professor) that will help me next year as a college freshman."
It seems as if both Abby and Clare are headed toward a future in a science-related field. Regardless, this internship is having a profound impact on these girls’ lives and is acquainting them with oceanic opportunities for the future.