Farewell 2020 – GoMRI Scholars Interview

(From Farewell 2020 Newsletter) At the GoMRI Synthesis Symposium in February, several GoMRI Scholars took part in a panel focused on the future, representing all of the students who have served as essential team members for GoMRI research and have brought curiosity and energy to the GoMRI scientific program. Below are excerpts from that panel discussion.

How did involvement with GoMRI (and GoMRI-funded researchers) shift your perspective related to research and future jobs/application of your research?

Kathryn Keating, Understanding Resilience Attributes for Children, Youth, and Communities (RCYC) in the Wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (RFP-V): “This experience has sharpened my focus, illuminating a path in work related to Gulf issues and coastal communities. It provided opportunity and access to mentorship within the RCYC project through my advisor, Dr. Tim Slack and the co-PI’s on our project, Dr. Jaishree Beedasy and Dr. Thomas Chandler, and also within the larger GoMRI community. Coming to [the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference (GoMOSES)] to present my research gave me my first experience in communicating research to an interdisciplinary audience. I continue to learn new ways to engage in interdisciplinary conversations as a social scientist, working to weave my social work perspective into these discussions as well.

One of the things that my involvement with the RCYC project led me to better understand, as a social worker and someone who is deeply interested in the policy implications of research related to the spill, was how I could potentially blend my macro-level social work skills with the skills I was developing as a sociological researcher. This led me to apply for the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine Gulf Research Program Science Policy Fellowship. I received the fellowship and worked from 2018-19 in an applied policy role with the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, based in New Orleans. It was an excellent experience that clarified my thinking around the ways in which my sociology and social work backgrounds might contribute meaningfully to the ongoing interdisciplinary restoration and monitoring work in the Gulf.“

Cheng Li, Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics & Plankton Studies (DROPPS): “I started my PhD study at Johns Hopkins University in 2010, the exact year when Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened. My initial research was on studying bottom boundary layer flows off the New Jersey coast. During a one month field trip, I was amazed by how beautiful and powerful the ocean wave is. The Deepwater Horizon oil blowout in the Gulf gave that beautiful image additional meaning, and the necessity of oil spill research and recovery became more personal. I am so thrilled to become part of it.

From scratch, I built my wave tank specially designed for oil spill research. The objective of this research is to generate high quality oil droplet size distribution data for models to accurately model the oil spill processes. One thing special about the DWH oil spill is that the response included application of an unprecedented amount of oil dispersant, COREXIT 9500A. The actual effects of dispersant on the oil droplet size distribution is critical in modeling accurately. For example, when you have large droplets, because of inertia, it will not follow the ocean flow and for generation of small droplets, one might argue that more surface area is exposed for faster biodegradation. The data generated through the research is being used by modelers to develop oil spill models.”

Kaitlin Frasier, C-IMAGE: “Involvement with GoMRI researchers and research questions helped shape my understanding of research as a fundamentally interdisciplinary activity. GoMRI allowed me to meet a wide range of scientists not just from academia, but also from industry, government institutions, and non-profits, as well as people with scientific training who subsequently moved into roles that I had not previously considered. I realized that successful scientific careers can come in many shapes.”

What are the future research directions that you hope to move? What are you most excited about related to future research?

Cheng Li, DROPPS: “I am now working at the National Energy Technology Lab, part of the Department of Energy (DOE). My future research, as of now, is on multiphase flows. It is a very important subfield of fluid dynamics. Not only for oil spill dispersion at sea, but people also study multiphase flow processes like rain formation, agricultural sprays, and combustion. For my PhD research, I was more focused on oil as the dispersed phase, and sea water as the continuous phase. For example, particle-laden flows, where solid particles are the dispersed phase and gas acts as continuous phase, and this is used extensively in the field of chemical engineering. For my current and future research, I will be working on various multiphase flow systems. My GoMRI experiences have well prepared me for my current research role at DOE, studying particle-laden flow, both knowledge and technique- wise. With the development of better computational and experimental research resources, we are going to understand better and predict what is happening in a complicated multiphase flow systems. I am very grateful for GoMRI.

Kaitlin Frasier, C-IMAGE: “I am excited about the increasing feasibility of large scale interdisciplinary oceanographic research through remote sensing, autonomous technology and big data.”

What could GoMRI have done differently to better engage students?

Cheng Li, DROPPS: “It’s a very tough question. The GoMRI community is highly interdisciplinary. We are always on a steep learning curve trying to understand different aspect of the research. When you understand more about the research and begin to appreciate its beauty and sophistication, you are likely to engage more. In general, to better engage students requires facilitating a better understanding between different subfields. To better engage students, presumably from various backgrounds, it will be beneficial to have a clear big picture, to identify key problems, and to connect students from various backgrounds. The establishment of consortia is a great practice to engage students from different backgrounds. More work can be done to better engage students through consortia or community-wise seminars, 101 lectures, or outreach activities.”

Kaitlin Frasier, C-IMAGE: “In my experience as a student within one of the GoMRI consortia (C-IMAGE), there was a constant, dedicated effort to engage students, however there was limited interaction between students across the various consortia. I would have enjoyed the opportunity to interact with students from other fields beyond the physics and biology groups within our consortium.”

[Back to the Farewell 2020 Newsletter]