Friday Harbor Laboratories
Revised: 01-22-2014

Blinks - NSF REU - BEACON Internship Program

Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Integrative Biology and Ecology of Marine Organisms

Application deadline: March 1, 2015

Program dates: June 15 to August 8, 2015

Program Description

Friday Harbor Laboratories' Blinks - NSF REU - BEACON Summer Internship Program seeks to link undergraduate students with scientist-mentors as collaborators in marine science research projects. The program takes advantage of the pristine environment, remarkable biodiversity, and the scientific and technical resources at University of Washington's marine science research facility. We have combined the NSF REU program with the Blinks Research Fellowship program, which targets groups who are historically underrepresented in the marine sciences, with the NSF-funded BEACON Program. With additional support from the United Negro College Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Anne Hof Blinks Memorial Fellowship, the Blinks-REU Program offers a full immersion research experience for motivated undergraduates, post-baccalaureates and graduate students. In keeping with the University of Washington's policy of encouraging diversity in its student body including underrepresented groups, the program seeks 10-15 students of diverse backgrounds and interests to participate in a eight week summer research project in the marine sciences. By linking fellows with marine scientists in a 1:1 research experience, fellows learn both the process and the substance of scientific research. As the research progresses, fellows will be encouraged to become semi-independent collaborators. The experience will expose fellows to the life and work of a marine science research laboratory. The program will incorporate workshops, seminars and training sessions in addition to hands-on research.

The mentors and projects vary from year to year according to the developing research interests of faculty and students. Research projects are designed by the scientists to be achievable projects which dovetail with their research plans. Project descriptions are posted below. Fellows will work semi-independently with mentor supervision for approximately 40 hours per week.

For summer 2015, the BEACON Program funding will augment the REU funding.

As participants in the FHL community, students will participate actively in FHL community activities, e.g. attend the weekly seminars, eat in the Dining Hall and live in the student dormitory. Early in the summer session, there will be a meeting of student participants with graduate students and mentors to share perspectives on graduate programs and participation in academic life, with a brief description of ongoing projects, and a question/answer session. At the end of their internship, fellows will present their research in a short powerpoint talk. Fellows will also write a scientific paper describing their work, and revise it based upon feedback from the mentor.

The Setting

Friday Harbor Labs is University of Washington's marine science field research station. Located north of Puget Sound in the San Juan Islands, FHL takes advantage of a remarkable diversity of marine habitats and organisms. FHL hosts 15-20 courses per year and approximately 100 independent researchers during the year. The 484 acre campus is the site for thirteen lab buildings, a dining hall, 3 dorms and other housing units.

Research at FHL emphasizes marine invertebrate zoology, phycology, fisheries science, conservation biology, cell and molecular biology, biomedical sciences, oceanography and other scientific disciplines. Investigators and students use diversified field resources as well as modern analytical technologies such as a nucleotide sequencer, scanning laser confocal microscopes, scintillation counter, centrifuges, HPLC, TEM, SEM and other equipment. Friday Harbor Labs is equipped with a 58' research vessel, numerous smaller boats, cold rooms, and an extensive seawater system serving numerous lab buildings. The facility includes a computer lab, networked research labs, wi-fi connectivity, a well equipped stockroom, a 17,000 volume library, and SCUBA facilities.

Financial Support

Participants will be provided with financial support to meet costs of room, board, round trip travel and a monthly stipend.


The NSF REU Site grant supports U.S. citizens or permanent residents during their undergraduate careers. The Blinks Endowment supports students who bring diversity to the FHL student body in any phase of their undergraduate or graduate career.

To Apply

APPLICATION PERIOD NOW CLOSED. We will open the application period when we get an adequate assemblage of projects from which to select. We expect the application period to be open from late November until March 1, 2015.

Questions may be directed to

Students who are selected will be notified in late March.

FAQs about FHL

REU Project Descriptions for 2015 (more to be added in November & December 2014)

The effects of phytoplankton patches and fluctuating salinity on protein expression and the behavior of echinoderm larvae in haloclines

Dr. Sophie George
Georgia Southern University

A regular occurring event in the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest is a decrease in salinity to less than 15‰ in some areas, as a result of increased precipitation and ice melts during the spring and summer months. George and Walker (2007) and Pia, Johnson, and George (2012) observed salinity-induced morphological changes for Dendraster excentricus (top right) and Pisaster ochraceus larvae (bottom left). For example, Pisaster larvae reared at 20‰ were shorter and wider while those reared at 32‰ were longer and slender.

The development to metamorphosis and the production of juveniles by larvae exposed to 20‰ (bottom right, juvenile P. ochraceus) in of itself is intriguing given that these species cannot regulate the osmolarity and ion content of their internal fluids. These studies indicate that the timing, magnitude and duration of ice melts and rainfall in the Pacific Northwest could alter larval morphology, larval feeding and swimming, and possibly the quality of new P. ochraceus recruits into the intertidal zone. During the summer of 2014, research will continue looking at larval behavior of P. ochraceus in haloclines with and without food. Students will also investigate the effect of intense salinity fluctuations on protein expression in P. ocraceus larvae.

Knowledge on the physiological mechanisms behind observed morphological changes and behavioral differences in haloclines would enhance our understanding of how echinoderm larvae will respond to intense fluctuations in surface salinity as our climate changes.

The participating student would learn to prepare algal cultures; rear larvae to metamorphic competency, observe larvae in haloclines, prepare samples for protein determination and gel electrophoresis, and photograph larvae from the various treatments.

Past students have presented their research at regional (GAS) and international meetings (SICB), and are coauthors on 3 recent articles from research at FHL with two in preparation:

The hard & fast of salmon biting biomechanics

Figure: Simple biomechanical model of bite force in a salmon head

Dr. Nick Gidmark
University of Washington - Friday Harbor Laboratories

When obtaining food, an animal can either bite hard or fast. Any organism has to deal with the fundamental tradeoff between strength and speed. This summer, we will be using dissection, computer models, and muscle physiology to investigate how different species of salmon balance the force-speed tradeoff. Using simple biomechanical models (e.g., Figure), we will compare maximum biting force and maximum biting velocity between salmon species of the San Juan Islands.

What you'll need: I can teach you everything you need to know for this project, so the only necessary qualifications are the ability to work hard and absolute dedication to having fun. If you have any experience with animal husbandry, dissection, photography/videography, animal surgery, or excel, that's a plus. In short, all you need is a good attitude and we'll figure the rest out.

What we'll do: To study salmon jaw muscles, we will begin with detailed dissection of salmon heads, focusing on two species: king salmon and pink salmon. These two species are plentiful in waters around FHL in the summers. Using previously-gathered x-ray video data, we will model skeletal movements involved in jaw opening and closing (see for a detailed description of this technique) and calculate muscle length changes. Finally, we will collect wild specimens to conduct muscle physiology testing, measuring muscular force and speed in living muscle tissue.

What you'll get: The goal of this research will be a scientific publication, so our endeavors will be geared to that end. Co-authoring a publication is a great resume or CV builder, not to mention a great tool to improve your writing skill. Experience with animal surgery will improve your skill as an anatomist, and give you experimental tools that very few people have. Most importantly, you'll gain an appreciation for vertebrate muscle-skeletal anatomy that can be related back to any organism you choose including your own body!

Shared food and habitat preference as indicators of potential competition between the native banana slug and the invading terrestrial black slug

Native banana slug gliding across moss/dried grass.

Dr. Erika Iyengar
Biology Department, Muhlenberg College

While iconic animal species are generally large mammals and typically carnivores, the Pacific Northwest has an unusual icon in Ariolimax columbiana, the second-largest terrestrial slug in the world.  In addition to its surprisingly large size, the slug has a wide range of colorations and patterns, from a bright yellow to a mottled drab olive green, giving rise to its common name: the banana slug (colors range from pre-ripe to ready for composting!)  This species can be very important in nutrient cycling and spore dispersal (of mosses, fungi) in the various local forest ecosystems.  Because no other native slug species even comes close to the banana slug in terms of size, this species likely has evolved without competition from close relatives for the ecological niches favored by adults.  However, as humans are increasingly mobile around the planet, invasive species are becoming commonplace.  In the Pacific Northwest, Arion rufus (although there is controversy as to its exact species, as there are three possibilities and they likely intermate and hybridize) is an invasive slug that was introduced within the past century, has become common on San Juan Island, and approaches A. limax in size.  While banana slugs have a widely varied diet, so does A. rufus.  Since the two species often co-occur, are investigating to what extent they might compete with each other.  Is this native icon threatened by this recent invader?

Two color morphs of Arion rufus (the invasive species).

Last summer, we conducted our first summer of field work with these species, looking at their various habitat choices and feeding preferences.  While we gained some important insights, there are many questions remaining.  Arion rufus is also known as the black slug or the European slug, but it has many morphs as well: licorice black, milk chocolate brown and even burnt orange.  The various color morphs seem to partition themselves among various microhabitats, with none of the black morphs found in the grasslands.  The sheer density of the invaders in the seemingly dry grasslands can be staggering, and they are extremely effective at rapidly disappearing once the sun arises.  Work this summer will involve further investigations of the feeding preferences and habitat tolerances of the two species, size classes and color morphs in an attempt to determine the basic ecology of both and thus gain an estimate of the likelihood that they might be in competition and a gauge of the ecosystem impact this invasive species may have on San Juan Island microhabitats.  Researchers on this project will need to be willing to work in the very early hours at least for animal collection (the slugs often disappear once the sun is fully up), some nighttime experiments/setting up overnight video time lapse is anticipated, and of course, slugs are wonderfully slimy animals (don’t worry, we have gloves!). However, while they may seem at first to be lethargic blobs, it is amazing how fascinating, intriguing, and even (I think!) charismatic these shell-less molluscs are upon close examination.  In addition, my lab works collaboratively on projects as researcher-power is needed, so any student working on this project will likely also be working on intertidal marine snail epibiosis project I outlined in another description. 



Epibiosis in marine intertidal snails: factors promoting the interactions and the impacts on participants

Hunting snails in the rocky intertidal zone.  Good leg and knee workouts.  Watch those barnacles!

Dr. Erika Iyengar
Biology Department, Muhlenberg College

Symbiotic interactions between marine gastropods (snails) and other organisms fascinate me.  In rocky marine communities, competition for space is typically intense, leading many species to partner with others to increase the amount of real estate.  This habit, when one species lives on another, is termed epibiosis, and can either be facilitated, actively discouraged, or neutrally tolerated by the basibiont, or host organism.  For many summers, I focused on the extreme host restriction of an epibiotic suspension feeding marine snail (Crepidula adunca; a slipper limpet) that largely lives attached only to the shell of one host species. I attempted to determine why it ignores other potential host snails and even hermit crabs in the shell of the preferred host (Calliostoma ligatum; a topsnail), and the impact of this association to both players. Many have noted that Calliostoma ligatum is unusual in that it has a relatively clean shell, typically only fouled by this epibiotic snail and an encrusting non-calcified green alga. However, I was not sure how common fouling was on intertidal snails on San Juan Island. 

Multiple individuals of Calliostoma ligatum clustered in a tide pool. Notice the green patches of algae on the shells and the one brown epibiotic shell of Crepidula adunca on the body whorl of the middle lower host individual.

This past summer, my lab conducted intertidal transect studies to examine this question.  What we found surprised us, as many of the snails and chitons that we thought would host epibionts did not.  Most surprising was the fact that for one particular species of limpet, individuals with very clean shells would often be located right next to individuals with shells so fouled by enormous tufts of Ulva spp. (a green alga) that it was difficult to initially realize that there was a shell underneath that mound.  Also intriguing to us were the factors preventing epibosis in most potential hosts: is it due to a lack of larval settlement based on the shape of the basibiont’s shell, behavioral characteristics of the basibiont as it ventures out of the ecological tolerance range of the epibionts, do various other snails graze the backs of the hosts and thus clean the shells, or are there other factors at play?  This upcoming summer we will build on the enticing preliminary results from last summer.  There are a number of directions this future work can take, all of which will revolve around questions of ecological interactions and likely involve hours of field work that will be driven by tidal schedules: investigating epibiosis in the limpets, setting out settlement plates with various parameters of “host shells”, continuing work on the Crepidula adunca-Calliostoma ligatum system.  In addition, my lab works collaboratively on projects as researcher-power is needed, so any student working on this project will likely also be working on the terrestrial slug project I outlined in another description.

Sexual selection on the seashore: Mating systems of marine arthropods

Dr. Vik Iyengar
Biology Department, Villanova University

Arthropods are the most abundant and diverse group in the animal kingdom – they occupy nearly every ecological niche in marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats.  Their extraordinary evolutionary success can be partly attributed to the remarkable diversity of mating systems found in arthropods.  I am primarily interested in sexual selection, particularly within species that are sexually dimorphic – that is, where strong competition for mates has ultimately lead to divergence in the appearance of males and females.  Exaggerated male traits can be the result of female choice, where females mate preferentially based on the male's expression of these traits, male competition, where males use armaments in intrasexual battles for access to females, or a combination of both.  In such mating systems, males usually compete with each other for females in contests usually determined by differences in body size or weaponry which dictate fighting ability. Males may compete directly for access to females or may instead control resources essential for female survival and reproduction.

Earwigs are a model system for studying competition and reproductive behavior because they are distinguished by their possession of weapons (“forceps”), their high degree of maternal care (females aggressively guarding eggs and juveniles), and high densities that promote frequent interaction.  In most earwigs, both sexes use their forceps to capture prey, and female earwigs are usually larger than males, presumably due to a fecundity advantage seen in many arthropods. 

The maritime earwig Anisolabis maritima is unusual among the order Dermaptera, and this insect is particularly well-suited for studies of sexual selection because males differ markedly from females in both body size (males are more variable in size, and often substantially larger, than females) and weaponry (males possess asymmetrical, curved forceps whereas females have straight forceps; see photo). Furthermore, while females often kill conspecifics by using their forceps like scissors, males usually resolve their disputes non-lethally by squeezing each other’s abdomens, perhaps a means to assess strength and fighting ability (see diagram from Muñoz & Zink 2012). 

This summer we will continue lab and field investigations of the mating system of A. maritima by determining the roles of sex, size and weaponry on intrasexual competition and intersexual mating preferences, and by examining the spatial distribution within larger groups to determine how same-sex and mixed-sex interactions affect distribution patterns observed in the field.

Neuroethology: How brains control behavior. A study of the orange brain of a toxic sea slug

Tritonia nudibranch.

Dr. Jim Murray
Cal State University, East Bay

This internship will focus on learning techniques in neuroethological research such as behavioral recording and analysis, recording electrical signals from brain and nerve, cell injection, and confocal fluorescent microscopy of neural structures. Research will focus on the nudibranch sea slug Tritonia diomedea because it is most amenable to neuroethological analysis, but will also extend to related species of opisthobranch as part of the comparative approach.

The Tritonia sea slug has served as a model system in neuroethology, i.e. relating the activities of multiple nerve cells to behavior in a natural context. In particular, we will investigate the neural basis of navigation using Tritonia to tidal flow, odors of food, mates, and predators, as well as the geomagnetic field. Because the nervous system is easily accessible and composed of relatively large cells, we will identify brain cells that are involved in sensing stimuli, and effecting crawling and turning.

One of the major advantages of teaching with the Tritonia model is that its large, orange neurons make learning to record from the central nervous system relatively easier compared to other species. The intern will also learn how to control magnetic fields, track animal movement using cameras, how to analyze video of body movement on a computer, and how to correlate movement with neural activity. This sea slug specializes in eating coral prey that are toxic to most other animals, so we are also investigating its chemical ecology and how it protects itself from toxins.

Impacts of ocean acidification on metamorphosis

Tritonia nudibranch.

Dr. Tony Pires
Dickinson College

Rising atmospheric levels of CO2 are expected to lead to substantial lowering of ocean pH within the next century. Impacts of ocean acidification (OA) are being intensively studied at FHL and at other laboratories around the world, particularly with respect to organisms that make calcareous skeletons that become more difficult to grow and maintain in acidified conditions. Many studies have focused on veliger larvae of molluscs, because of the ecological and economic importance of these animals. Although many studies have documented OA effects on larval growth and survival, few have focused attention on the critical life history transition of metamorphosis, when pelagic larvae become benthic juveniles. This is a pressing area for research, in two respects. First, it is clear that larval experience may have profound “carryover” effects on juveniles (1). Second, settlement to the substrate and subsequent metamorphosis are mediated by larval sensory physiology, which may itself be affected by OA (2).

In the summer of 2015 we will study metamorphosis of the gastropod, Crepidula fornicata, in the context of OA. How does acidification affect the acquisition of competence for metamorphosis, the neurobehavioral responses to environmental cues that induce settlement and metamorphosis, and post-metamorphic juvenile performance? C. fornicata is an ideal animal for this research. Much baseline information is already known about its development, metamorphosis, and life history. The veligers are large (up to 1.5 mm), easily cultured, and amenable to ecologically-relevant behavioral and neurophysiological experiments (3). Furthermore, C. fornicata is native to the eastern U.S. but has become established as a non-native species in many parts of the world (including Washington), and is of great interest as an invasive species in changing ecosystems (4). In this project students will learn elements of experimental design, as well as methods of larval culture, carbonate chemistry, metamorphosis assays, and video and electrophysiological techniques for behavior analysis.

(1) Pechenik JA (2006) Integr Comp Biol 46: 323-333.
(2) Munday PL et al. (2009) PNAS 106: 1848–1852.
(3) Penniman JA et al. (2013) Invertebr Biol 132: 14-26.
(4) Bohn K, Richardson C (2012) Mar Biol 159: 2091-2103.

BEACON Program Internship.

Dr. Billie Swalla
University of Washington

The BEACON Program will fund up to four students. They will work under the supervision of Dr. Billie Swalla.