Located approximately 40 miles from campus, the Shannon Point Marine Center is Western’s hub of marine science research. According to the SPMC website, the facility sits on a 78-acre campus in Anacortes, Wash., with nearly 3,000 ft. of undisturbed beachfront that provides plenty of access to the marine ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest.
Western marine science professor and full-time Shannon Point researcher Kathy Van Alstyne took advantage of this “natural laboratory” close at hand, and proposed a research project to the National Science Foundation, a government-funded program responsible for major funding for scientific research.
“The purpose of my grant is to look at the production of signals by seaweeds,” Van Alstyne said. “What we’re looking at is how these marine plants use the signals. It is useful in understanding how plants and other animals interact.”
The proposal was accepted, and a four-year $558,000 was given to Van Alstyne to fund her research. She said the NSF only funds 15 to 20 percent of the project proposals it receives.
Over the course of four years, eight Western undergraduate students will be assisting during the research process, Van Alstyne said.
“I think what made this [proposal] so attractive to the NSF was the involvement of Western undergraduates,” Van Alstyne said.
Jenna Dohman, a Western junior studying environmental sciences, will be one of the students to participate in the research process. She has previously worked with Van Alstyne at Shannon Point.
“I worked for her last year during winter and spring quarters,” Dohman said. “I was kind of a lab rat. Mostly I would weigh things and clean them.”
Though Dohman will be doing the same type of work as last year, she also hopes to be given more responsibilities.
Van Alstyne’s research will measure the chemicals omitted by plants, such as the sea lettuce, and see effects it could have on humans, she said.
“There’s a limit in the workplace on how much of a chemical you can be exposed to. We’ll see how much of the chemical is being produced [in the sea lettuce] and if it is safe for humans,” Van Alstyne said. “It will give us an idea of whether or not people living near [populations of sea lettuce] will be impacted.”
For Dohman, working at Shannon Point is valuable as an undergraduate.
“I read about the Shannon Point Marine Center before coming to Western,” Dohman said. “I never thought I would have worked there as a sophomore.”
The undergraduate workers will be working part time during the academic year, and full time during the summer, Van Alstyne said.
“One of the things to say is it is going to be very valuable for students,” Van Alstyne said. “Grad schools like to see they have research experience. This will be valuable to the students to enhance their resumes.”
Dohman said she is lucky to be working with Van Alstyne again.
“She’s almost more of my mentor. She’ll give me great tips about applying for graduate school,” Dohman said. “She’s been my guiding light.”