Standing for ocean acidification system, OASYS is where the magic happens, or, rather, the science. This past summer nine college students took part in a rigorous 10-week internship working alongside the professionals at Mote Marine on critical areas of scientific research including coral health, the antibiotic potentials of shark mucus and the effects of ocean acidification, climate change’s “evil twin” and a growing problem caused by the absorption of too much carbon dioxide in the ocean.

While some scientists would balk at the introduction of the inexperienced into their lab, not Dr. Emily Hall, staff scientist and manager of the ocean acidification program at Mote Marine, who took on four of the nine incoming interns. It’s a form of paying back, it seems—Hall completed her own internship at Mote Marine before heading off to grad school and returning a bona fide scientist.

“I learned an incredible amount just being able to be hands-on and one-on-one with a researcher in the field,” Hall says. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.” And it’s one that she wants to pass on to the students who enter the lab excited but unsure and leave confident, energetic and asking questions about graduate school and career paths.  “I absolutely want to pay it forward,” Hall says, “because I want our future scientists to be as strong as possible.”

 Getting one-on-one experience with Mote’s expert researchers and taking part in hands-on laboratory research, it’s all part of the institution’s mission to ensure the next generation of scientists receive the support they need. These real-world experiences were made possible by the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) and a sister program created by Mote Marine in partnership with the Nature Conservancy’s high school internship program.

“All of my students literally had their hands in the tanks, measuring scallops, weighing them, cleaning the tanks,” says Hall. “Carbon dioxide’s always been absorbed by oceans, but because of the rate it’s going in, it’s starting to shift the chemistry of our sea water.” This negatively affects local sea life such as coral—the exoskeletons literally dissolving in the acidic water and unable to regrow—but potentially also aquatic economic drivers such as Florida scallops.

Placing Florida scallops in tanks of varying salinity and temperature, the students study the animals’ development over time, taking careful measurements to see how changes in ocean acidification affect growth and health. It’s an important step, says Hall, when students get to not only address real-world issues and see the fruits of their labor, but also to gain a practical understanding of all the theory and convention learned in the classroom. Yes, that tool needs to be acid-washed—not because the teacher said so, but because it could foul up the next experiment if unclean.

And Hall won’t reveal the secret yet, but she and her students did discover something interesting over the summer and she hopes to publish the findings soon.