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Marine Scientists Soon to Have New 'Home'
February 28, 2000

In about eight months, the Department of Marine Sciences at the Avery Point campus will have a new place to call home. The $24.4 million marine sciences building will be ready for its occupants, which will include the marine sciences department, the Marine Sciences and Technology Center, the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program and the National Undersea Research Center.

To help the building live up to its billing as a state-of-the art facility, marine sciences faculty are working to find essential funding and equipment. Although $1 million worth of teaching equipment is still needed, the effort is getting a much needed boost from the National Science Foundation, which has approved funding for a special teaching and research laboratory. During the next three years, the department will receive a total of $240,000 to establish a Suspended Matter Analysis Laboratory.

Robert Whitlatch, who heads the department, is thrilled about the grant. "We're now able to buy equipment that is rare to come by, and it will enhance both our research and education capabilities," he says.

Whitlatch, a marine biologist with expertise in benthic -- ocean floor — populations and invasive species, is one of a number of researchers who can not wait to get his hands on a particle velocimeter or a total organic carbonizer — two very specialized pieces of equipment that will be key components of the new lab. He says this equipment is not available anywhere else in the northeast region.

With that new equipment and much more, UConn scientists will be able to analyze the properties of suspended matter in water and study the conditions in which particles move through water columns. Whitlatch says seawater contains a complex mass of suspended matter -- including single-celled plants and animals, bacteria and organic debris, as well as non-living materials -- that plays a pivotal role in both coastal and open ocean biological processes.

The facility will serve a wide range of applications, including the specific needs of UConn faculty and students. Whitlatch says the new lab will support the kinds of research projects that encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among faculty and students at Avery Point and in Storrs.

Criteria for funding approval from the National Science Foundation included supporting advancement at other marine research institutions. Colleagues from the University of Rhode Island, Long Island University, SUNY-Stony Brook, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Providence College, Franklin and Marshall, and UMass-Dartmouth wrote letters of support.

The grant also requires that the lab be used to advance education, not just research. While graduate training will be enhanced, among the greatest benefactors of the new UConn lab will be students of the coastal studies program. "Both our graduate and undergraduate coastal studies students will be able to train on instruments that are being used in cutting-edge oceanographic research," says J. Evan Ward, assistant professor of marine sciences. "This is what the concept of hands-on learning is all about."

Whitlatch credits Ward and five other faculty for helping land the grant. They are: Hans Dam and George McManus, associate professors and biological oceanographers; Dan Codiga, assistant professor and a physical oceanographer; Annelie Skoog, assistant professor and a chemical oceanographer; and Pat Kremer, adjunct associate professor and a biological oceanographer.

Janice Palmer