Sarah Friday, ’13, has an interest in sponges that has taken her SCUBA diving in the Florida Keys, collecting research specimens at the Smithsonian and learning Kiswahili in Tanzania.

Friday, a biology major and studio art minor, spent two days this summer collecting sponge samples at the Invertebrate Zoology Department of the Smithsonian Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, which helped her investigate the influence global climate has on sponge-feeding patterns.

Sponges can be indicative of environmental changes, such as sea surface temperatures, carbon dioxide emissions and nitrogen pollution, because they integrate these conditions into their formation. Examining carbon and nitrogen levels over time can also indicate the evolutionary progression of the metabolic relationship between sponges and their dependent organisms, zooxanthellae.

“The health of our reefs is often placed on corals,” Friday said, “but bio-eroding sponges also play a pivotal role in the habitat composition of coral ecosystems … The overall health of several species of this sponge is tightly linked to their symbiotic relationship.”

A few weeks before visiting the Smithsonian, Friday had to submit a “destructive sampling request” to justify taking specimens from the museum’s collection. During the two days she spent working in the museum’s lab facility, she was able to sample 81 sponges, which were then dried, homogenized and shipped to an off-site facility for analysis.

Her analysis of sponge metabolism turned out to be very useful. Friday said the results could provide a greater understanding of how ecological patterns within coral reefs are influenced, as well as how land clearing, biomass burning and fossil fuel combustion affect marine ecosystems.

Friday’s preparation for her summer research garnered her the Robert F. Smart Award, which the biology department awards to the junior or senior biology major with the most outstanding proposal for summer research. The award helped fund her trip to the Smithsonian and the analysis of her samples.

Friday developed her summer research proposal in the spring with the help of her research advisor Dr. Malcolm Hill. She said the experience gave her more academic confidence and a greater knowledge of research techniques. Working in Hill’s lab also provided Friday with a good mix of molecular work and field work. She became a certified SCUBA diver to be able to collect sponges in the Florida Keys during the summer of 2010.

"Seeing a project through from its field collection to processing in the lab to the final data it produces is very rewarding,” she said. “I love that I can be involved in every step.

"This semester, Friday is studying abroad in Tanzania on the Zanzibari coast. She is studying the sustainability of sponge farming in Zanzibar and is also learning Kiswahili, Tanzania’s official language.

"I chose this program because I really wanted to have a unique study abroad experience,” she said. “Something different from college life at UR.”