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Texas A&M University Corpus Christi - Discover Your Island

SURF Faculty Labs

SURF: Summer Undergraduate Research Focus


Gregory Buck Environmental Microbiology Lab
Dr. Greg Buck, Associate Professor of Biology and Biomedical Sciences

My research focuses on Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium native to estuarine and marine waters. Specifically, I am interested in how Vibrio vulnificus regulates genes in response to environmental perturbations, and how this organism may go from a free-living state to a biofilm on plants and shellfish, and how these genes effect pathogenicity, leading to potentially-fatal wound infections and septicemia in humans, as well as gastroenteritis.

To work in my lab, a student MUST have taken Microbiology (with a laboratory) at the level of either an allied health or majors course, because V. vulnificus is a BSL2 pathogen, Risk Group 2. A grade of “B” or better is strongly suggested Microbiology, because students must be able to work alone with pathogenic bacteria. Coursework in and Genetics, Biochemistry and /or Molecular Biology is helpful, but not required. Students should not be involved merely to "check off" an activity box for professional/graduate school, and should be able to work independently and as a team member with faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. Previous undergraduate students have been able to present and publish their work in my lab.

Project: Effect of Environmental Stress on Regulation of Virulence Genes in Vibrio vulnificus

This work entails characterization of various factors that affect genes in the environmental bacterium Vibrio vulnificus. Our specific research studies how the cytolysin/hemolysin gene vvvhA is regulated by alternative sigma factors under stressors including hyperosmolarity, hypersalinity, and oxidative stress. The goal of an undergraduate student is to learn basic microbiological manipulations and perform introductory research suitable for local, regional or perhaps a national meeting (NCUR, SACNAS,ABRCMS, Sigma Xi). 


Dr. Lee Smee

Marine Ecology Lab
Dr. Lee Smee, Associate Professor of Biology

My research is based in the areas of ecology, marine biology, and animal behavior. Within the area of animal behavior, there is a particular emphasis on chemical signaling in aquatic systems. Please visit my lab website for more info: www.marineecologylab.tamucc.edu

Project: Oyster Reef Food Webs

I am looking for a SURF student to assist with field experiments in oyster reef ecology. We are examining food web interactions between oysters, crabs, and fish and examining how oyster morphology is influenced by predators.

Dr. Gregory Stunz Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation
Dr. Greg Stunz, Professor of Marine Biology

The Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation (CSSC) is directed by Dr. Greg Stunz and its mission is to advance the knowledge of marine sportfish and promote conservation through science-based fisheries management. The CSSC has numerous on-going fisheries projects, and summer interns will work with the CSSC’s team of research staff and graduate students during their internship.  The Center’s philosophy is for interns to gain as much research experience as possible; thus, summer interns will work with on numerous projects throughout the summer. Examples of current projects are listed below.  Dr. Stunz and his research team expect highly motivated students with a passion for research and an eagerness to learn.  Because of the field-intensive nature of these research projects, students also need to be able to work long hours on boats both in inshore and offshore waters.  Please visit our webpage for additional information about our research team and current projects:  www.sportfishresearch.org

Project: Fish community assessment of Texas artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), SCUBA diving, and vertical long line (VLL) sampling techniques

The overall goal of this large-scale project is to evaluate the fish community structure associated with artificial reefs developed under the Texas Artificial Reef Program along the Coastal Bend region of Texas.  Currently, we are studying 15 artificial reef sites in the Gulf of Mexico using a variety of sampling techniques: a VideoRay Pro4 remotely operated vehicle (ROV), SCUBA diving, and vertical long line sampling.  Using these techniques there are two main goals for this project: 1) determine species abundance, species richness, and vertical distribution patterns of fish at reef sites; and 2) determine how physical differences between representative sites (water depth, distance from shore, type, number of and complexity of structures) affect species abundance and richness. 

Project: Tracking spotted seatrout and red drum habitat use in Texas estuaries using acoustic telemetry

The goal of this project is to employ a novel approach (acoustic telemetry with VR2W positioning system) to characterize movement and connectivity of red drum and spotted seatrout at two spatial scales within an estuarine complex.   These assessments will allow us to evaluate temporal changes (diurnal, diel, seasonal) in habitat use and movement.  The specific objectives of this project are 1) characterize the movement of red drum and spotted seatrout in complex seascapes to identify critical habitats and assess the degree of habitat connectivity; and 2) document spatial and temporal shifts in movement at the bay/estuary scale for both species to determine inter-bay and estuarine-coastal connectivity.

Other examples of ongoing CSSC research projects:

  1. Re-opening of a natural tidal inlet: Determination of seasonal abundance and density of nekton near Cedar Bayou pre- and post-opening
  2. Why are Black Drum (Pogonias cromis) starving in Baffin Bay? An ecosystem-based approach
  3. Determining movement patterns of dolphin-fish (Coryphaena hippurus) in the Gulf of Mexico using pop-up archival transmitting (PAT) tags

Dr. Michael Wetz Estuarine and Coastal Ecosystem Dynamics Lab
Dr. Mike Wetz, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology

I am an oceanographer with an interest in understanding how climate and human-driven shifts in phytoplankton production and species composition affect coastal food web structure and function, biogeochemical cycling, and water quality.

Project: Environmental Controls on the Growth of Harmful Algal Bloom Forming Taxa from South Texas Coastal Embayments

The student will establish single cell isolates of several harmful algal bloom (HAB) forming phytoplankton taxa from Oso Bay and Baffin Bay, Texas. Laboratory experiments will be conducted to examine environmental controls on the growth of these HAB species.

Project: Spatial-Temporal Distribution of Bacteria in Two Eutrophic Coastal Embayments of South Texas

The student will quantify bacteria from the water column of two coastal embayments that are experiencing significant water quality degradation.  Bacterial abundance measurements will be combined with geochemical techniques to assess role of autocthonous and allocthonous carbon sources as contributors to water quality degradation.

Dr. Feiqin Xie
Dr. Chuntao Liu
Dr. Toshiaki Shinoda
Atmospheric Sciences Lab
Dr. Feiqin Xie, Assistant Professor, Dr. Chuntao Liu, Assistant Professor, Dr. Toshiaki Shinoda, Associate Professor

Our research group studies a broad range of weather and climate phenomena. We are especially interested in severe weather and tropic cyclones, remote sensing of clouds and precipitation, cloud and boundary layer dynamics, climate dynamics, atmosphere-ocean interaction, and physical oceanography.  We encourage highly motivated undergraduate students from various disciplines to work in our lab. The desired student’s skills include: data analysis, programming in IDL, Matlab, FORTRAN, or Python etc.

Project: Precipitation Contribution from Large Organized Systems during El-Niño and La-Niña

Using a database of precipitation derived from satellite measurement in 1998-2012 to examine the organized large precipitation systems. Total fractional rainfall from them will be compared in El-Nino years vs. La-Nina years over different regions of world, starting with the southeast US.

Project: Characterize the Atmospheric Boundary layer from Space

Use space observations, such as GPS, lidar, radar and infrared satellite measurements along with high-resolution balloon soundings to study atmospheric boundary layer dynamics.

Project: Has Frequency of Severe Convective Weather Increased in the US in the Past Two Decades?

Using a database of precipitation features over US derived from satellite measurement in 1990-2010 to define severe convective weathers and examine the long-term change of the population, size, and location of these severe events.

Project: How Far Can Warm Rainfall Propagate Inland from the Coast?

Using a database of precipitation features summarized from satellite data record in 1998-2012 to examine the warm rain events away from the coast into the land. Initial study will be focusing on the coast of Gulf of Mexico, then similar methodology will be applied to other regions globally.

Project: Properties of Rain Systems Near Corpus Christi and Other Regions

Write a description of the results of climatological summary of rain systems near Corpus Christi.  Then develop a module of describing similar results over other regions.

Dr. Paul Zimba Plankton Ecology Lab
Dr. Paul Zimba, Associate Professor of Biology

The Zimba lab broadly assesses marine plant taxonomy and physiology, applied algal studies in aquaculture and biofuels, food web interactions, seagrass ecology, and the detection and impacts of harmful algal blooms.

Project: Characterization of Algal Communities on Seagrass 

Epiphytes can equal vascular plant production, and more importantly are a more readily useful source of food and energy for herbivores. This project will involve sample collection in the field, productivity and taxonomic assessment, including preparation for SEM, and identification of diatoms from SEM micrographs.

Project: Physiological Ecology of Harmful Algal Species

In this project, a set of lab experiments assessing light/temperature/nutrient effects on growth and physiology of a cultured HAB species will be completed by the student. Work requirements would include basic chemistry, attention to detail, ability to count cells using light microscopy, and familiarity with EXCEL for initial data analyses.