A Deep Dive into Summer Research: Catching Up with CC&E’s Gulf Scholars

July 31, 2023

BATON ROUGE - For a lot of people, summer is a time to relax by a pool. But one group of LSU students have instead spent their summer break diving deep into research, as they examine important issues that impact Louisiana and rest of the Gulf Coast. 

These students are part of the inaugural cohort of the Gulf Renaissance Scholars Program, funded by the National Academy of Sciences and directed by Department of Environmental Sciences, or DES, Professor Linda Hooper-Bùi.

Other faculty involved in leadership include Clint Willson, interim dean of the College of the Coast & Environment; Margaret Reams, professor of environmental sciences; Jacqueline Bach, professor of education and acting vice provost; Brandon Ballengée, visual artist and biologist; Debbie Goldgaber, director of the LSU Ethics Institute; and Sarah Ferstel, associate director of LSU Discover.

The goal of the program is to provide opportunities for undergraduate students from across the curriculum, allowing them to work with a faculty mentor to create research and creative projects that will positively impact coastal communities. In addition to their research projects, called Gulf Impact projects, they have participated in workshops, meetings, and even taken a trip out to the Gulf of Mexico.

“We wanted that sense of place, and that understanding of the Gulf,” said Bùi.

Bùi said she would count the program a success so far. “This was the first year of the program, and we have learned so much. It’s been wonderful to see these students grow as individuals and professionals.”

We caught up with some of CC&E students and faculty of the Gulf Renaissance Scholars program to find out how their projects were going. 

Nonnie "Betsy" Cook“Using Predictive Toxicology Assessment to Determine Causes of Shark Population Decline in the Gulf of Mexico”

Scholar: Nonnie “Betsy” Cook, Coastal Environmental Sciences (CES) Junior with an Environmental Science and Research concentration

Cook has been working with DES Assistant Professor John Doering to use a method known as predictive toxicology “to work on a project using molecular approaches to predict the potential impacts of petrochemicals on sharks in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Doering.

Predictive toxicology focuses on measuring chemical interactions in genetic samples, and while it has been used in other species of fish, it has not been used in shark species before. Cook is currently working with 3 species of shark and two kinds of stingrays. 

“It seemed important to me to expand the techniques of predictive toxicology to a group of animals that have not yet been analyzed. Potentially being the first to sequence certain genes of different shark and ray species is very exciting. I hope that our research can contribute to a better understanding of the most harmful chemicals associated with oil spills and the species most at risk,” Cook said.


Jamarion Johnson"Vulnerability of Spartina Patens Marshes to Sea-Level Rise"

Scholar: Jamarion Johnson, CES Sophomore with a Deltaic Sciences concentration

Johnson has been working with Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences, or DOCS, Associate Professor Tracy Quirk on a project involving Spartina patens, otherwise known as Salt Meadow Cordgrass, a native dominant marsh grass that serves a variety of important roles as an ecosystem engineer in Louisiana’s coastal marshes by acting as a shoreline stabilizer against erosion control. providing breeding habitats for marsh birds as well as filtering pollution.

Louisiana is experiencing the highest rate of sea level rise in the United States, and Johnson’s research examines the effects of this on s. patens. “We hope this study will add new information on the effects of sea-level rise on coastal marshes and the potential conditions necessary for the restoration of an important marsh plant species,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he’s enjoyed many aspects of the project so far, from the becoming acquainted with new people to the research, but the best part was “is being able to go out into the marshes because that is where I really feel at home.”


Jameson Woodall“Geological Study of Submarine Regions of the Lower Mississippi River Delta”

Scholar: Jameson Woodall, CES Junior with a concentration in Applied Coastal Environmental Sciences

Woodall has spent her summer studying underwater landslides with Geology Professor, and DOCS Adjunct Professor Sam Bentley. “We have been analyzing sediment samples collected from Pass a Loutre using methods including radioisotope analysis and grain size testing to gain information about the submarine regions of the lower Mississippi River Delta,” she said. This information she gleans may be used to better understand submarine landslides, which can impact coastal and offshore infrastructure.

“The best parts of this summer research project have been the opportunities to learn about different aspects of coastal environmental science and being able to share this research experience with other young researchers from a variety of different disciplines,” she said.


Jennifer Cagnolatti“Evaluation of altered nutrient conditions on algal growth during dynamic co-culture”

Scholar: Jennifer Cagnolatti

Cagnolatti is working with DOCS Shell Professor in Oceanography/Wetland Studies Professor Sibel Bargu Ates, along with chemical engineering Associate Professor Adam Melvin to study the factors that contribute to algae blooms, such as light intensity and nutrition.

“This study is important to understand when and in what conditions harmful/toxic phytoplankton species bloom in estuarine and coastal systems,” said Bargu Ates.

“Although the project focuses on algal blooms, it connects to a bigger picture in which algal blooms impact the whole food chain,” Cagnolatti said.