Science research with the family in tow
Like many working in science, Dr Mariona Segura Noguera's scientific career has always been intertwined with her personal life. Travelling to Hawai'i to carry out research at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, poses a number of family challenges...
One of the perks of working in the sciences is the possibility of travelling around the world. Last month I had the fantastic opportunity to go to Hawai’i to participate in the field work of the project I am working on at the moment: Slowing Down at Small Scales: Microscale Viscosity Gradients in the Sea. This project, awarded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to Prof Stuart Humphries and Dr Òscar Guadayol at the University of Lincoln, aims to understand how viscosity affects the ability of marine microbes to move and find food (chemotaxis).
Bacteria in the ocean play a vital role in nutrient dynamics and form the basis of many large-scale biogeochemical cycles that influence both our climate and the productivity of fisheries worldwide. The experiments to be carried out in Hawai’i were designed to validate some of our model results that show that viscosity could act as a trap for bacteria and hence, affect their small-scale distribution and dynamics. The realization that oceans are very heterogeneous (patchy) at the microscopic scale has transformed our understanding of marine microbiology. A new picture of the microscale is emerging: a picture with high spatial and temporal complexity fuelled by microorganisms, with lots of microbial hotspots and microscale nutrient gradients, and a huge biodiversity. In this project we aim to add viscosity to this picture. In the ocean, microscale viscosity gradients (small changes in the stickiness of water over short distances) are created by plankton and by mucus, such as that produced by corals, and we think they play an important ecological role.
Like many of my friends that work in science, my scientific career has always been intertwined with my personal life. I am in a dual-career marriage, with two children born abroad, living far from my family. So my participation in this three-weeks trip to Hawai’i was conditioned on my ability to obtain funds to cover the expenses derived from the need to bring my children with me. I am indebted with the Eleanor Glanville Centre for their new Worldw-IDE Fund that has made this possible, as well as to Stuart and Òscar for their support. This travel has been an intense and quite exhausting experience: the usual unforeseen issues and stresses of completing experiments in an unfamiliar environment, and dealing with moody children dragged out of their comfort zone, who loved snorkelling, coral, crabs and turtles, but grimaced at every new food, who endlessly enjoyed going everyday by boat to a non-uniform school, but despaired at having to wake up an hour earlier than usual… with a few new mosquito bites, etc. Overall it was a worthwhile experience, and we successfully conducted five experiments in the coral nursery facility at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Hawai’i, in Moku o Lo’e (Coconut Island). We didn’t waste any opportunity to learn about Hawaiian culture and its natural history, including watching Hula Dancers and Polynesian Games at Waimea Valley, and a visit of the Hokule’a to the Island, as well as meeting new colleagues for future collaborations… and trips back to Hawai’i!
Dr Mariona Segura Noguera, School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln