This summer six Hobart and William Smith students have been working remotely on research projects through internships at the Finger Lakes Institute. Pete Critchlow ’21, Mikayla Gullace ’22, Ashly Johnson ’22, Felix Lamoureux ’23, Hunter Savignano ’22 and Sophia Shaw ’21 have investigated topics ranging from harmful algal blooms (HABs) to Finger Lakes fisheries and nutrient levels in the Finger Lakes all while working from home across New York State and in Canada.
“Summer 2020 has presented new challenges and opportunities for our research program,” says Finger Lakes Institute Director Lisa Cleckner. “Our cohort of summer research students has worked extremely hard and is making great contributions to our projects by working with data sets and contributing new analysis and interpretation. We have learned much from each other, and spending time on Zoom calls with the students is the highlight of my week.”
Johnson, a biology major, has been studying environmental conditions affecting the toxicity of HABs. Her research is a part of a joint FLI project with Cornell University, working with citizen scientists on Seneca, Cayuga and Canandaigua lakes to study HABs. HABs have been found to produce toxins that have caused a variety of illnesses in people and animals.
Lamoureux’s focus has been exploring the evolution of the fisheries in the Finger Lakes, and analyzing why some lakes experience decline in lake trout populations while others see an increase. After studying a great deal of data from the NYSDEC Angler Diaries in the Finger Lakes, Lamoureux believes the quality of fishery to be an important factor in tourism to the Finger Lakes region.
Both Shaw and Gullace were motivated to choose their projects because of their local ties to the Finger Lakes. A chemistry and environmental studies major and Canandaigua native, Shaw has spent the summer investigating nutrient limitations in the Finger Lakes and how this might change seasonally. She worked on identifying phosphorous, nitrogen, or both nutrients as the source of limitation in the ecosystems, which can help in the development of policies to improve the water quality of the area.
A geoscience and environmental studies major who grew up near Honeoye Lake, Gullace has researched the weed harvester that is used to reduce macrophyte density in Honeoye Lake and how it affects nutrient levels, turbidity and sunlight penetration. Her hope is to uncover any possible correlations between the usage of the weed harvester and the increasing prevalence of HABs. Gullace’s goal is to help determine potential courses of action for the town.
Savignano, a geoscience and biology major, has been focused on how dissolved organic carbon varies throughout the Finger Lakes based on different types of land-use in individual watersheds. He chose this topic because of his desire to study biology, geoscience and chemistry simultaneously.
Critchlow, an environmental studies major with a minor in entrepreneurial studies and media and society, is testing the hypothesis that the measurement of the total suspended solids can be used as a surrogate for phosphorus concentrations in the Seneca Watershed. He chose this topic after spending the spring working with FLI on a Pollution Prevention Series educating the public on ways to keep the Seneca Watershed clean. During that series, phosphorous has been identified as a recurring problem in the watershed as it limits algal growth leading to HABs so he wanted to find a more time efficient way to measure phosphorus concentrations. “This summer’s research students have diverse interests related to aquatic sciences, which is reflected in their individual research topics,” said Nadia Harvieux, the FLI Education Program Manager. “It’s been exciting to see our students learn from one another as they explore different research areas about the Finger Lakes, and the cohesive team they have become, even while apart.”
Shaw’s reflection on conducting research remotely highlights the new experiences that have been made possible by the FLI in response to the online format. “Each week we are able to meet partners of the FLI through Zoom calls, an opportunity that may not have happened under “normal” circumstances.”
Johnson, a member of FLI’s 2019 summer research cohort, concurs “I’m so grateful that the FLI continued their research program this summer because every day I’m still learning crucial skills such as data analysis, programming, project management, and professional networking which will be essential to my future success.”
“This program has shown me that you can foster a passion for learning regardless of the circumstances,” says Gullace.
FLI director Cleckner has offered the summer research students the opportunity to work in the Finger Lakes Institute’s Baker Water Quality Laboratory — established with a gift from Daniel R. Baker ’72 and his family — during the coming academic year. “I can’t wait to have the students back on campus working at the lab and look forward to that day.”