My name is Abbey Dias, I am a rising Junior and a Biology major. This summer, I am interning at the Friday Harbor Research Laboratories on San Juan Island, WA. I work in Lab 8, with the ‘Fish Guy’ (Adam Summers) and Whitman alum Mackenzie Gerringer. Our lab is known for our project called Scan All Fishes, and our goal is to CT scan all of the known fish species in the world (33,000)! The project began in 2016 with the intention to publish all of the scans so that they are freely accessible to the public for educational purposes, artist purposes, and so on. So far, we have scanned just over 7,000 fishes!
My main focus in the lab, however, is on my own project that I developed with Mackenzie on morphological changes with depth in the family Liparidae (common name: snailfishes). Mackenzie came to speak at Whitman this past school year about her naming of the world’s deepest fish, a snailfish, called Pseudoliparis swirei. This family of fishes is unique because they have the largest bathymetric range; they are found in tidepools (0 m) here in the San Juan Islands (Liparis florae) all the way to the deepest ocean trenches extending to 8500 meters (Pseudoliparis swirei). We are able to study the effects of depth and pressure on these fishes because they all belong to the same family, meaning that there is less variability than when comparing across taxa. Most of my training included learning to use the CT scanner, various 3D processing software, SEM, and three types of 3D printers. My studies combine the usage of all of this technology, as I am analyzing CT scans with measurements and segmenting bones to look at their density.
Aside from learning how to work with some amazing technology, I have also begun to learn what it is like to work in a real lab. Three hours of organic chemistry lab per week is nothing compared to the 9am-10pm schedule I work here every day! Once I was trained on all the equipment, I was given the freedom to conduct my project in whatever way I saw best fit, but I have come to realize that when working with technology I am working on the computer’s schedule. Unfortunately, that means I only have so much control over how fast I can work.
This past week has been tough because I have also begun to realize another complication that comes with working in a real lab, and that is that there is no protocol to follow on how to conduct your experiment. Creating your own project involves a lot of exploration, which comes with many trials and many errors. Just today, I realized I had made a mistake in part of my data collecting that wound up taking me back a few steps in my progress. I am happy that I found this mistake today, however, and not a few weeks down the line since I am still in the process of making the final tweaks to my methods!
In my free time, I have enjoyed kayaking around the island and I plan to scuba dive next week! Overall, I am excited about my work and Mackenzie and Adam have been absolutely incredible mentors to work with!
Experiences like Abbey’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff.