The Shannon Point Marine Center has been awarded a grant in the amount of $182,413 from the National Science Foundation to upgrade its culturing facility for small marine organisms.
The money will be used to invest in new equipment for the lab, including a laminar flow hood, autoclave, incubators and others, but the question about when students and staff will be able to get into the lab to use them remains unanswered.
Shannon Point Marine Center is a research facility on Fidalgo Island run through Western Washington University. Students and independent researchers will use the new equipment to study how small organisms react to environmental challenges, like ocean acidification.
Suzanne Strom, senior marine scientist at the center, said the grant will provide much-needed updates to the culture lab, which has been using 20- to 30-year-old equipment.
“We have a couple of fun, exciting new pieces that will really increase our capacity for studying these organisms,” she said. Included in that is an upgraded microscope and flow cytometer, which analyzes particles in water samples.
“Our overall goal of this is to provide a culture facility that all investigators at Shannon Point can use,” she said.
Strom said Western is still discussing how to approach fall term if distancing measures are in place as so many courses require hands-on learning. Summer programs at the center have been canceled.
“Our program is all about being there and working in the ocean using all of these cool instruments,” she said. “It didn’t seem possible to still have a quality experience and do it online.”
Classes that would normally be in session at the center are now held online, with professors recording themselves in the field and taking samples instead of taking students with them to get samples.
“At least they can see the professors on Western’s boat even if they can’t be there themselves doing it,” Strom said.
The center, which usually has about 20 people working there daily (not including students), closed its doors when Western moved to online classes.
Twice per week, one of Strom’s graduate students enters the facility to maintain the collection of single-cell organisms in culture.
“That’s it. That’s all we’re doing in the lab,” she said. Researchers at the facility are limited to analyzing data from already collected research if they have it.