IWU Biology Major Catches a Wave - and the Plankton Inside
Slott examines microsopic marine organisms while on board the R/V New Horizon. (Photo by Elizabeth Balser)
July 8, 2005
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. - Amy Slott of Oswego, Ill., a junior biology major at Illinois
Wesleyan University, spent June 1-11 aboard the R/V (Research Vessel) New Horizon,
a 170 foot-long ship operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of La Jolla,
Slott, a graduate of Oswego High School, was invited by William Jaeckle, assistant
professor of biology, and Elizabeth Balser, associate professor of biology, to participate
in a 10-day research cruise in the San Clemente Basin, 80 miles off the southern coast
The voyage was coordinated by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution of Fort
Pierce, Fla., and led by chief scientist Dr. Tammy Frank. Slott was the youngest of
17 scientists and students from the United States, Great Britain and Germany who were
conducting several different projects on board.
Each day, Slott helped Balser and Jaeckle use a net to collect the microscopic larvae
of invertebrates such as sea stars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. In order to avoid
damaging the specimens, the scientists would perform “drift tows,” putting the nets
out while the ship was drifting, rather than moving forward.
After pulling in the nets, Slott sorted the samples of plankton under a microscope
in order to separate the desired larvae from the wide variety of species found in
the water. At sea, using a microscope presented an unexpected challege, Slott said.
Due to the rocking of the boat, she had to hold on to the microscope and “chase” the
tiny animals that repeatedly sloshed out of her field of vision.
The work was repetitive, Slott admitted, but not boring, as each sample yielded a
different variety of animals to observe.
Slott examines microsopic marine organisms while on board the R/V New Horizon. (Photo
by Elizabeth Balser)
Once the samples were sorted, the researchers performed experiments building on Jaeckle's
past work with invertebrate larvae. By submerging the specimens in various chemicals,
Slott and Jaeckle observed how the larvae digested and distributed nutrients to their
Early in the trip, the researchers learned about their own digestive systems as well.
“I didn't think I would be sea-sick,” Slott said, “but the first day was bad. I was
ready to call a helicopter to come and get me off the ship.”
Fully recovered by day two of the expedition, Slott went on to catch squid, photograph
dolphins, and spot a distant whale. Although the biology major is currently pre-med
and plans to take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), Slott said that her experience
on the ocean enticed her to investigate careers in marine biology as well.
Now back on dry land, Slott will continue her research on the Illinois Wesleyan campus
for the rest of the summer by experimenting on specimens transported from California.