Scientist of the Week

Caitlin Williamson

For senior Maggie Waldron, a double major in biology and environmental studies, the upcoming year after she graduates won’t take her to a graduate school — at least not yet. Instead, next winter, she will be traveling to Antarctica to do research on microbial community structure and how it has been impacted by climate change. The research is through a program at Woods Hole, an oceanographic institute in Massachusetts, where Waldron has previously done research. In fact, her independent study with Bart De Stasio, Associate Professor of Biology, focuses on the research she did on soft-shelled clams last summer, also conducted through Woods Hole. A native of Massachusetts, Waldron has long been interested in the human impacts on coastal environments.
In her current research, she is specifically examining the impact of an underground barrier placed on the coast of Cape Cod. By using microbes to convert the nitrate to nitrogen gas, the barrier intercepts ground water in order to eliminate the impact of nitrogen produced by humans.
“I’m looking at the effects of the barrier on shell fish, to see whether it could be a useful way to protect the coastal waters, and to see if it’s going to impact them negatively at all,” Waldron said. “This project is trying to clean up septic waste water produced by humans so that it’s not negatively impacting the environment.”
Waldron began the field work for her research last July, and is currently working on putting together a paper. “It was really time consuming; it’s taken me a full 12 months, and I had to use a lot of different techniques,” Waldron said.
Although she does not have any conclusive evidence yet, she said it does not appear that the barrier is having a negative impact on shell fish. “After further study, [the barrier] could be a good alternative to a sewer system, to clean up water before it hits the ocean,” Waldron said.
In addition to working with Professor De Stasio, Waldron worked with Professor Stefan Debbert, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, to put to use her studies in organic chemistry to assist her research. Despite the difficulty with applying organic chemistry to her work, the upside of Waldron’s work was that she was able to eat the unusable specimens.
“I got to eat a lot of clams,” Waldron said, smiling.
In addition to her work last summer, Waldron did research on damselfish population dynamics on the Great Barrier Reef when she studied abroad in Australia. She also was able to study coral reef environments in Grand Cayman when she participated in the LU Marine Term. Waldron would like to continue her studies involving coastal ecology, and go to graduate school within the next couple of years to pursue a PhD in the subject.
“I’m really interested in marine ecology and more specifically coastal ecology, so what’s happening where beaches and oceans meet, and how humans and their environment interact,” Waldron said. “I grew up by the ocean in Massachusetts, so it’s important to me. I love living by it and I think it’s important to protect it, as we have an increasing impact on the ocean and coastline.