Simply being a successful researcher isn’t enough. You also have to be able to convey your research findings to others, and what they mean for our future. This is the view of marine biologist Sam Dupont, who received the Faculty’s 2014 Research Prize.
“We need to get politicians to understand the consequences of increased carbon dioxide emissions and the acidification of the sea, so that they can make the right decisions.”
It’s drizzling and Fiskebäckskil is blanketed in fog, but the little community with its white wooden houses perched up on the cliffs still looks inviting. It was here, to the Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences in Kristineberg, that researcher Sam Dupont came ten years ago.
“I had completed my doctoral degree in Belgium, and I got a postdoctoral position here. The intention was to spend a year here, but I stayed.”
He stayed because he and his family felt so at home in this little community, and also because he was able to devote his time to researching things that he found interesting. One of his research specialisations is starfish and ophiuroids, and their ability to regenerate, in other words to grow a new arm if they lose one. The other, to which he has devoted the most time in recent years, is the impact of climate changes on marine animal life. In the lab, he cultivates different types of marine animals by mixing eggs and sperm from adult individuals.
“I got these from Norway last Sunday,” he says, pointing to a metal tub full of sea urchins.
However, he is uncertain about what sex they actually are. Male and female sea urchins look identical, and it is only when they release their eggs or sperm that they can be sexed. He picks one up to see if he can get any eggs or sperm from it. It turns out to be female, with lots of eggs. Sam smiles.
“Now I can continue my experiments next week.”
By studying larvae from echinoderm such as sea urchins that are just a few millimetres long, researchers can see how different types of environmental changes affect the species since the larva stage is sensitive to unexpected changes. But cultivating larvae in the laboratory is no easy task due to their size, and it is hard to carry out biological measurements on them. To do so, researchers use an advanced confocal microscope which uses lasers instead of ordinary light, and which generates three-dimensional images of the larvae. In this way, they have been able to study how digestion works, and have demonstrated that sea urchins find it hard to digest their food as the sea becomes more acidic.
When Sam and his colleagues began researching ocean acidification and its impact on marine species, there were not many other groups carrying out this type of research. Since then, research within this field has exploded, making Sam and his colleagues experts. When the Linnaeus Centre for Marine Evolutionary Biology (CeMEB) was founded in 2008 and thereby secured funding for ten years, the opportunity arose to do things a little differently.
“When you don’t have to keep chasing funding all the time, you can be more flexible and try out slightly crazy ideas. That’s also when you tend to have the most success in research.”
At the beginning of his research career, he was driven mainly by curiosity. Today, social responsibility is at least as important, and he sees research communication as an important part of his day-to-day work. He is therefore active in various international contexts, with the aim of increasing understanding of the consequences of ocean acidification for marine animal life. He believes that using ocean acidification is a simple approach.
“In contrast to global warming, which can be hard to understand, it’s easy to see how increased emissions of carbon dioxide make the sea more acidic,” he says, jotting down CO₂+H₂O = H₂CO₃ on a piece of paper. In other words, carbon dioxide + water = carbonic acid.
In December, he met representatives from the Swedish Government to discuss what needs to be done.
“I think politicians are much more interested in these questions now than was previously the case, and I believe that if you shout loud enough people will listen.”
When he is in Kristineberg, he spends most of his time at the office completing applications, or in the lab with his marine creatures. But he also thinks the social aspect is important. When guest researchers visit, they are often invited to the house he shares with his wife Geraldine “because there’s not much else to do around here”, and he believes in the importance of cultivating his social contacts.
“You have to share your knowledge with others, and find new colleagues around the world. That’s an exciting part of the job.”
The faculty’s Research Prize
Each year, the Faculty of Science awards a prize to one of its researchers. In addition to the honour of winning, the successful researcher also receives SEK 250,000 in research funding.
The prize for 2014 was awarded for the following reasons:
Sam Dupont is a leading researcher within a highly topical field: how marine species and ecosystems are affected by global warming and ocean acidification caused by high levels of carbon dioxide. He has contributed with independence, accuracy, integrity and a high degree of expertise towards a basic understanding of these complex issues. He has also rejuvenated laboratory operations at Kristineberg by developing equipment for research experiments.
His success can be clearly seen in a large number of publications in high ranking journals, invitations to conferences and many national and international collaborations. Sam has shown himself to be an internationally important researcher with highly qualified assignments, putting marine research at the University of Gothenburg firmly on the map.
Role: Researcher at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, based at the Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences in Kristineberg.
Family: Wife Geraldine Fauville, who is studying for a doctoral degree at the Department of Education, Communication and Learning, and two children aged 7 and 9.
Latest news: Winner of the Faculty of Science Research Award 2014.