Marine Science Center expanding research capacity

Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center in Nahant will undergo dramatic renovations that will strengthen the coastal facility’s capability to perform marine science and ocean engineering research, thanks to a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project will modernize 1,310 square feet of research space in the existing Edwards Laboratory to create an ocean engineering lab, a molecular/analytical chemistry lab, a shared molecular resources lab, and a wet prep lab. In addition, the Marine Science Center’s (MSC) existing flow-through seawater system, a resource heavily used by resident and visiting scientists, will be replaced, more than doubling its capacity to at least 415 gallons per minute. The seawater storage capacity will be increased from the current 7,500 gallons to 40,000 gallons.

“The renovations will allow us to expand and enhance our capabilities in molecular biology, ocean engineering, and experimental ecology,” said Geoffrey Trussell, the MSC director. He said the upgrades will also support the center’s transformation into a hub for interdisciplinary, use-inspired research into sustainability and security challenges in coastal marine environments.

MSC researchers are working on the development of underwater robotics to detect explosives, autonomously operated mariculture systems and acoustic imaging technology for coastal fisheries that will also have homeland security applications. In addition, new large-scale experiments will study how predation risk and climate change affect species interactions and how marine ecosystems function, as researchers evaluate, in a more complete way, how marine organisms cope with environmental stress.

The upgrades will also make the MSC a more valuable resource for the 50 Northeastern students enrolled in the graduate and undergraduate marine biology programs.

The award highlights Northeastern’s emphasis on prioritizing marine science, given the global environmental and economic importance of ocean ecosystems. In the past three years, Northeastern has invested $470,000 for infrastructure improvements at the Marine Science Center and has increased the number of resident faculty to seven. The Department of Biology and the Marine Science Center will start searching for a new faculty member in the area of fisheries biology this fall.

The grant continues the Marine Science Center’s momentum in building on its research and teaching expertise. Last month, a Massachusetts legislative delegation — including U.S. Sen. John Kerry and U.S. Rep. John Tierney — visited the center for a tour that showcased its novel research.

Northeastern received the competitive award from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Integrative Activities, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as federal stimulus funds.