Student Research Spotlight: Siarah Hall
January 26, 2023
BATON ROUGE -- College of the Coast & Environment Senior Siarah Hall may still be two semesters away from finishing her degree, but she’s already garnered a wide range of research experience. In the fall of 2021, Siarah was selected for a position as a National Science Foundation, or NSF, Research Experience for Undergraduates at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, also known as BIOS. While she was there, she also became a certified scientific research diver. In the summer of 2022, she won the Women in Ocean Sciences Award, which funded her work at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, where she worked on a small research station in Little Cayman.
Siarah stopped by the CC&E offices to talk about her awards and travel experiences. The following conversation has been edited for clarity.
You’ve traveled and done research in a few different places, but let’s start off by talking about your time here at CC&E. Can you talk about what your experience has been like here at the college, in class?
I have had some amazing professors who have been extremely helpful and have really just gone out of their way… I took OCS 2020, the required field experience class for my major. Having first-hand experience at research institutes means I’m seeing what the scientists in these fields are actually researching, and the things they are teaching us in this class are very much on point with the research that’s actually being done.
“ The things they are teaching us in [OCS 2020] are very much on point with the research that’s actually being done. ”
So, you went to Bermuda in 2021. How did you end up going there?
I applied for the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program. I had been applying to all kinds of different programs, just wanting to gain some experience. I got [a] notification from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science that I got [in] and I ended up taking the fall semester off to go.
What kind of research were you doing?
We were given [the] freedom to propose a research project and to choose our mentor. My project was on exploring the light-use efficiency of corals… The spectral signature the organism admits is unique to the amount of photosynthesis they’re doing. We looked at the amount of light coming in versus the amount reflected off the reef to determine how much light is absorbed by the coral to do photosynthesis. That gives us an idea of how efficient they are at doing photosynthesis. And if you look at efficiency, kind of similar to metabolism—like us, if we’re not healthy, if we’re struggling, our metabolism is going to be significantly decreased. And the same is true for these coral ecosystems. This is a very preliminary study, but the long-term goal would be to monitor ecosystems using their seasonal and annual variations in light-use efficiency as an indicator.
So, what is the advantage of using light-use efficiency over some other measure?
Once you create a baseline of what the spectral signature and light-use efficiency of a reef is, you can start using satellite imagery to monitor the area which is a huge advantage because other survey methods can be very costly and difficult.
While you were in Bermuda, you also became an American Association for Underwater Sciences certified scientific diver, and it sounds like you got to use that on your next trip. Tell us about that.
Each dive can be very different, depending on what the goals are. But for one example, one of the visiting scientists in Little Cayman was looking at the pathology of a particular coral disease that not much is known about. Little Cayman, where I was, is one of the only places in the Caribbean that hasn’t been impacted by this disease… So they were using it as a baseline so they could compare to the genetics of affected coral and also see if there are genetic responses to disease exposure.
[I] would go down to different depths and find a large, healthy coral of a given species and take a tissue sample. We were also taking mucus samples that they would be taking back to have genomics on to look at the symbiotic microbial community.
So next up, you’re planning on going to Palma de Mallorca, in Spain, this summer? What will you be doing there?
I’ll be presenting the work I did in Bermuda at the annual Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) conference. Every NSF-REU Ocean Science site nominates one intern to apply for the ASLO Multicultural Program which funds their travel and stay for the conference. I was nominated by BIOS and accepted into the program.