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Student Spotlight: Henry Hua

Posted on Monday, October 7, 2019 by for Public Affairs.

With plans for a career in marine biology, joining Dr. Kestrel Perez of St. Joseph's College in her work with green sea urchins was a no-brainer for Henry Hua '20.

Even so, the opportunity didn't exactly fall into his lap. Early into his junior year, Hua set out to find a lab that could aptly merge his enthusiasm for research with his love of the ocean.

"The mystery of the ocean is so intriguing because we know so little about it," said Hua. Specifically, it's the "Human-caused issues and their effect on marine organisms" that fuels his interest. But why bother? According to Hua, there are so many endangered species struggling to survive in the ocean, that we need to start looking for ways to help them. "I want to know what we can do about this," he said.

Hua is certainly making a dent, digging deep into major issues like ocean acidification through his work in Dr. Perez's marine biology lab.

A lab in St. Joseph's College
Dr. Kestrel Perez's marine biology laboratory at St. Joseph's College, Brooklyn, New York

In the lab, Hua studies the effect of ocean acidification on green sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis). The primary focus of his research is to monitor their food consumption, and correlate his observations with the impact of decreasing pH on eating habits.

In a tank with conditions meant to mimic that of the acidifying ocean, Hua claims that he typically observes one of two trends: "Either the sea urchins will eat more than usual because they're trying to acquire as much nutrients as possible while they still can, or they'll eat far less than usual because they want to save energy by not processing food".

Such research explains how environmental pressures can trigger fluctuations in certain species' eating habits that have the potential to disrupt entire food webs, and thus ecosystems (a concept referred to as a positive feedback loop).

Inherent to Hua's understanding of his work and it's in-situ repercussions is his involvement with Midwood's Ocean Science Team.

For two years, Hua's been apart of the academic group that closely studies the ocean, for competition at the Bay Scallop Regional Ocean Science Bowl. According to Hua, "Prior knowledge from Ocean Science has helped me greatly with my experiments, like monitoring sea water conditions". Not only this, but the rigorous, multidisciplinary Ocean Science curriculum—which combines aspects of marine biology, physical oceanography and environmental science—allows Hua to situate his research in the greater context of addressing the ocean's biggest threats.

"I feel like I'm better prepared to do research in the future, and more familiar with marine biology procedures that can help me further investigate issues like ocean acidification," said Hua.

Even in ways beyond knowing the material, Hua feels that his experience working for Dr. Perez has readied him for the coming years of college research; "I've learned the importance of keeping meticulous notes, documenting everything, making enough time for it, and maintaining a consistent schedule". More pressingly, though, for anyone looking to get involved in research, Hua stresses "Find a lab that you enjoy working in, that's the most important part."

Alyssa Kattan (Class of 2020)