Published: August 22, 2023
Marine Chemistry Major Embarks on Research Cruise
Emma Chestang ’25 had only ever traveled around the southern United States, so being on a research ship for 12 days was completely new territory for her.
Luckily, she found out, she does not get seasick.
Chestang, a marine chemistry major, spent the summer working in Tim Conway’s Lab at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.
As a lab technician, she worked with graduate students, helping them with their research. The lab studies trace metals and biogeochemical cycling in the ocean. Chestang assisted in preparing equipment and samples and ensured all equipment was in working order. Her main project was cleaning a machine called the “seaFAST,” which separates trace metals from seawater samples.
As part of the research, Chestang and a UT alum who works in the lab, Hannah Hunt ’20, participated in a 12-day research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico and around the West Florida Shelf.
The research cruise was part of a project to investigate the role of underwater groundwater discharge in iron and nitrogen nutrient cycling, Chestang said.
"We study groundwater discharge in the ocean because it gives us an idea of how the nutrients are entering the cycling occurring in the ocean," she explained.
"Studying these cycles is important because nutrients such as iron and nitrogen are essential for phytoplankton to survive. Phytoplankton make up about half of oxygen production on Earth and help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Therefore, studying these cycles can tell us how they influence the marine environment as well as global systems such as carbon cycling."
The cruise involved several labs from different universities, including Florida State University, Old Dominion University, Ohio State University and the University of South Carolina. Hunt and Chestang were the only two from their lab, along with seven other graduate students and a few postdoctoral students.
“It is pretty rare that an undergraduate student is on a cruise of this length, so I was very lucky to be able to go,” Chestang said.
Hunt, a current Ph.D. student, said there was a last-minute opening on the cruise, and Chestang jumped at the opportunity to join in.
“She has been a fantastic addition to our group, always offering to help with any field work we have, cleaning, troubleshooting equipment malfunctions and helping other labs on the cruise,” Hunt said.
As an alum, Hunt said she enjoyed getting to know Chestang and hearing how UT has grown and changed.
“UT produces great marine chemistry students, including Emma, and we are so excited to have her continue doing research during the fall semester,” Hunt added.
Each day of the cruise began at 6:30 a.m. The group would go to a station, a preplanned area to collect water and collect samples required for each lab's research, Chestang explained. Next, if possible, those labs would filter out whatever was needed to measure in order to reduce the amount of water needed to ship home, she said, as none of the equipment needed to analyze the samples was able to be brought on board.
Most of the work Chestang was tasked with involved collecting or filtering the samples, though she said she also learned how to operate the machinery on the deck. The more experienced people on board taught the students about operations at sea in both the scientific and mechanical aspects, Chestang said.
“I am very grateful that I was able to go on this research cruise since it was such a great learning experience,” she said. “There are things you learn on a trip like that that you simply cannot learn in the classroom.”
Having never been out to sea before, Chestang was surprised by the clearness of the water and how blue it was, she said. She was also surprised by how much she enjoyed being on the ship.
After graduation, she is planning on going to graduate school to continue her education in the field of chemical oceanography.