Suds, Scat, and Study
New research fellows get to work
by Alexandra Grayson and Ben Anderson
Maryland Sea Grant has awarded two new fellowship research grants. Each fellow receives a $25,000 stipend, tuition allowance, and benefits for two years.
Most freshmen do not get involved immediately in research. But Ethan Hain was not most freshmen. While pursuing his degree in biochemistry, with a minor in mathematics, at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, he worked in a lab during his second semester. His job was to scare zebrafish with a dot on a computer monitor to see if fluoxetine, a compound found in many antidepressants, affected their behavior. (Zebrafish are commonly used as a proxy for humans in experiments.) Hain’s experiment showed that the antidepressant calmed the fish when they were startled. For the remainder of his undergraduate education, he focused on organic synthesis and genomic studies, but his work with zebrafish may have foreshadowed his current research.
The Ellicott City native is a doctoral student in chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Standing by an oven with the scent of chicken scat may not seem like the most appealing prospect, but Hain was drawn to Professor Lee Blaney’s scholarship and enthusiasm. He is developing fluorescence-based tools to screen for emerging contaminants of concern, including antibiotics, ultraviolet filters from sunscreen, and hormones. And he’s teaming up with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on its oyster survey and expanding his research to study effects of these contaminants on oysters.
Hain ended up in a place he did not expect to be, doing research he didn’t expect to do. In doing so, he’s able to fuse his love for sailing and swimming in the Chesapeake with his acumen for chemistry and lab work.
“Graduate school is not a sprint, it’s a marathon — you should enjoy it,” Hain said. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”
Ana Sosa was interested in microbes, from yeast in beer to microcommunities in the ocean. And she has experience working with both.
After receiving her degree in biotech engineering in 2014 from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico, Sosa began studying microbes at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Mexico City.
“I wanted to learn about industrial biotechnological processes, and I thought that working for such a big international company would give me a platform to learn about business, marketing, manufacturing, and just about having an industry job in general,” she said.
After a few years with Anheuser-Busch, Sosa wanted to further her education in marine microbiology. Born in Mexico City, Sosa moved to Baltimore to pursue her doctorate at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. She researches microbial communities that live on microplastic particles floating in the Chesapeake Bay. Using small disks placed in the water, she collects these particles to study how microplastics and their hitchhikers might affect larger organisms.
When she first moved to Maryland, Sosa knew that crabs and oysters were important. After a few years here, she has learned that the Chesapeake “is a big part of the state’s economy, providing jobs and other sources of income, not to mention the overall environmental importance of the ecosystem and its connection to other ecosystems.”
Alexandra Grayson and Ben Anderson are this year’s Maryland Sea Grant communications interns.