By Javier Pujols, Senior
Science centers and museums are present in all continents; there are over 35,000 active science museums in the U.S. These science centers are responsible for welcoming over 300 million visitors each year. November 10th, 2018 officially marks International Science Center & Science Museum Day, a day emphasizing the widespread effect of global science centers and museums and portraying their impact on countless visitors.
Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
In our own city, Miami’s Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Downtown Miami focuses on sharing the power of science, sparking wonder and fueling innovation for the future. The museum offers six floors of interactive exhibitions dedicated to the ecosystem of the Everglades, the evolution of flight, and human biology. “There are only a few institutions worldwide that have both an aquarium and a planetarium at one museum,” said Paola Villanueva, spokesperson for the Frost Museum.
Interning at the Frost Museum and the Knight Learning Center
On an iPrep field trip in my sophomore year, when I first entered the Frost Museum, I was astonished by its breathtaking aquarium. Already knowing that marine biology is what I want to pursue, I became determined to become a Frost Science intern. The day I started my internship, I entered the 5th floor’s Knight Learning Center with a sense of wonder and excitement, ready to gain knowledge. Today, my passion flourishes as I feed the staghorn corals and conduct scientific experiments with coral species in an attempt to combat the widespread chains of coral bleaching that are intensified by the climate change and dynamic sea temperatures. Dr. Rivah Winter is my mentor, and I am constantly expanding my knowledge about coral organisms and their symbiosis with algae. She encourages me to ask questions and explore the wonders of our oceans.
Dr. Winter exemplifies what I aspire to become. Because of her expertise, she granted me an interview in order to learn more about her and her path on becoming a renowned marine biologist within the scientific community. Read the interview below to get more information about Dr. Winter and interning at a museum like the Frost.
Interview with Dr. Rivah Winter
Javier: What were your initial motivations to pursue Biological Oceanography as a degree?
Dr. Winter: I wanted to be a marine biologist from the age of 7. We went to an aquarium for my birthday, and from then on I was hooked. I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the ocean, going to junior lifeguard camps in the summers and starting to SCUBA dive as soon as I was able, when I was 14. My interest in the ocean was really general, though, and it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Australia during college that I became focused on coral reef ecosystems. I remember asking questions during some lectures about the relationship between corals and their algal partners, and the professor would often answer, “That’s a good question – we don’t know.” That answer, “we don’t know,” is what ultimately sparked my passion and drove me to study the coral-algal symbiosis. (My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, with a minor in Marine Science, from UCSD. I then earned a PhD in Marine Biology and Ecology from UM.)
Javier: What type of research do you conduct in this lab? And what is your ultimate goal?
Dr. Winter: In the Inventors in Residence Coral Reef Research Lab, we are working to improve the stress tolerance of nursery-grown corals, To that end, we run controlled experiments on the threatened staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), in which we test the corals’ hormetic stress response. “Hormesis” is the phenomenon by which you can get a beneficial response in an organism to a low dose a stressor that would be damaging at higher levels. We are experimenting to see what types and levels of stress are hormetic for the corals, with the goal of improving their resistance to heat stress.
Javier: Why is the research we’re conducting in this lab essential to coral conservation efforts?
Dr. Winter: We are working to improve the survival rate of coral fragments that are outplanted to the reef during reef restoration. Because there are only so many resources dedicated to coral conservation, we need to ensure they are used as effectively as possible. By boosting the corals’ abilities to handle temperature stress, we will be improving the efficiency of the existing conservation effort. There are now tens of thousands of corals being grown for reef restoration, so improving their ability to handle heat stress will have a big impact on their ability to survive the effects of climate change.
Javier: Why is it important for lab visitors to learn about our conservation efforts?
Dr. Winter: By educating our visitors about our work in the Inventors’ Lab, we are not only sharing our research and inspiring the next generation of scientists, we are also helping people think more carefully about how the choices they make every day impact this valuable habitat. The only way any ecological conservation ultimately can be successful is if people are educated about the ways their choices impact the environment.
Javier: What do you hope visitors take away from our presentations and research?
Dr. Winter: Many people don’t realize how important coral reefs are to their own lives. Though coral reefs occupy just 0.01% of the surface of the planet, they support more than 25% of marine biodiversity and provide hundreds of millions of people around the world with livelihoods and food. Here in South Florida, we have the third longest barrier reef system on the planet, and this habitat not only provides valuable fish habitat, it also serves as our first line of defense against large storms like hurricanes. I want people to leave the Lab understanding that these valuable ecosystems provide many beneficial services to humanity, but are threatened by many man-made stressors. They key is that the daily choices people make – like avoiding single-use plastics, buying sustainable seafood, being a responsible boater, avoiding the use of fertilizers, using public transportation, and otherwise reducing their carbon footprints – add up to make a significant difference. Our visitors can be part of the solution!