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10 questions: In conversation with Tristan Ene

Posted on Thursday, December 26, 2019 by for Public Affairs.

Who do you work for and where?

I work for Dr. Brett Branco in the Aquatic Research and Environmental Assessment Center (AREAC), an environmental science lab in Brooklyn College.

How did you find your lab and what drew you to it?

I found this lab while searching for ones that would fit my interest in marine science. I was drawn in because of Dr. Branco’s extensive experience in the field. In addition, his lab focused on the issues facing Jamaica Bay, an area that I am familiar with because of its close proximity to my home.

What do you research?

My research mostly focused on the water quality of Shell Bank Creek, an undersampled tributary of Jamaica Bay and the effectiveness of the NYC DEP’s testing methods throughout the bay. The project revolved around using an instrument called the YSI probe, which was able to measure dissolved oxygen, salinity, pH, and temperature at different depths. I took measurements of each of these 4 conditions every 3 hours, from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM over the course of a day at depth increments of 0.5 m, starting from the surface and ending at the very bottom. In addition, I aided in a water quality research project that took place in Prospect Park Lake about harmful algal blooms.

Probe cables Probe display Probe sensors
Instrument used for water testing that measures dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature, and pH

What are the real world applications of your research?

In conducting this research I hope to shed light on the importance of testing in Shell Bank Creek as a tributary and the overall ineffectiveness of the DEP’s testing methods. As of now, the DEP mainly conducts water quality tests every two weeks at stations distributed across the bay. However, my project has shown that conditions such as dissolved oxygen, pH, and salinity vary significantly throughout the day and across different days. Therefore, the DEP’s water quality data does not provide a comprehensive look into the conditions in the bay due to the fact that water quality conditions are highly variable, even over the course of a single day.

How would you describe your lab environment?

Although I did not spend a lot of time in the lab due to the nature of my project, I always received ample support and help from those around me. Our laboratory had a high amount of traffic over the summer because of the many projects that were taking place at once, but there were always people willing to drop what they were doing to assist you if you needed it.

What are the best and worst/most difficult parts of conducting your research?

The best part of conducting my research was also the most difficult. Most of my research took place outside of the laboratory itself, in Shell Bank Creek. This particular tributary is important to me because I lived near it my entire life and I’ve witnessed firsthand the issues that have been facing it, such as the large amounts of plastic pollution. I was eager to learn more about the health of the tributary, especially when I learned how undersampled it was by the DEP. Working in the field was also the most difficult, however, because if the equipment I was using did not work properly I was miles away from the laboratory and I would have to begin sampling again the next day. Luckily this did not frequently occur, but it held up my project whenever it did.

Shell Bank Creek

What do you do when you get stuck or face a problem in your research?

Whenever I faced a problem in my research I always had direct contact with the lab manager and PhD student, Majid Sahin. He helped save my project more times than I can count.

Have you gained any interesting skills since starting work at your lab?

While working at the lab I learned a lot about communication and data analysis. Communication was especially important during my project, as the few processes that took place within AREAC itself (such as chlorophyll a testing) required many people working in tandem towards the same goal. In terms of data analysis, I learned how to turn an entire month of water quality data to a more understandable form, and explain why water quality conditions appeared as they did.

In your opinion, what qualities make for a good researcher? What skills do you have, or had to develop, that contribute to successful work?

Perseverance is an important quality for anyone looking to conduct research. In all, I emailed about 20 professors before I received a response back from a professor who was interested in taking me in as a mentor. It was worth it as Dr. Branco was highly experienced and helped me significantly in learning about environmental science research. Perseverance also prevented me from getting discouraged when I faced obstacles during my project and helped me to overcome many setbacks.

Are you ready for NYCSEF?!

I’m ready and excited to share my work at NYCSEF!

Interview by Alyssa Kattan (Class of 2020)