By Renner Kwittken
When Mrs. Greenwald was asked about Alex Remnitz, a senior at Byram, she described her as, “a burst of energy when she enters the room. She knows what she wants and she is very determined (in a polite and professional way) to get what she wants.” Alex studies, as she puts it, the “effects of near future CO2 on two GABAergic behaviors: behavioral lateralization and scototaxis in a temperate fish species, the Sailfin Molly, and found that these fish were robust to the high ocean acidification CO2 levels predicted for the near future.” In layman’s terms, she studies the effects of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and how they specifically affect Poecilia latipinna, or the Sailfin Molly.
She is studying this because, recently, rising CO2 levels have increased the acidity of the ocean by 25%. This massive change has already shown to affect fish species in two specific ways: behavioral lateralization, the tendency of an organism to favor a certain side of the body, and scototaxis, light/dark preference. These changes in behavior are also a measure of anxiety, and these changes occur because the increased CO2 levels alter the neurotransmitter receptor GABAA. Alex studies how future higher levels of CO2 may impact the Sailfin Molly. What she found was interesting, and quite honestly a little heartwarming; her study shows the resilience of this small little fish to rising CO2 levels.
Alex’s topic came as a surprise to no one who knew her. She is an avid sea diver with a love for marine life. Her time in the Authentic Science Research Program did not come without its fair share of struggles. Her innate curiosity got her into trouble quickly, forcing her to narrow down what she wanted to study early in her sophomore year. She then spent weeks perfecting her review guide to ensure it was of its highest quality. Finding a mentor was even more difficult; she originally grabbed two mentors who, unfortunately, dropped her at the end of sophomore year.
Confusion surrounded the direction of her research that summer, but she did eventually find two new mentors at the beginning of her junior year. Dr. Martin Grosell and Dr. Rachel Heuer, who are both affiliated with the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, at the University of Miami. From there, she had to learn an entirely new field of marine biology, acid-base physiology in marine life, in a very short amount of time. She also wrote her review of literature about Mahi-Mahi, but was surprised when she showed up to the lab and learned that she was going to be working with Sailfin Mollies instead.
After all of the arduous and long hours she has put into her project, constantly revising and changing to face the challenges thrown at her, she finally received the recognition she deserved. She submitted to Siemen’s and was also one of the three Neuroscience Research Prize winners. That’s not all she gained from the program: she has grown as a student and as a person. Alex says, “I have learned how to take criticism, how to fight through the tough and stressful times with grit, how to write well in scientific prose, how to stay organized when I am feeling the most overwhelmed, and how to articulate myself in a way that will be understood by others. Science research has truly taught me that you will have to endure many failures in order to get back up on your feet, figure out what went wrong, and how you are going to fix it the next time, or in other words, how to be a real researcher.”
Alex’s future seems bright and clear; she plans to stay in science and continue her research in college. Her impact here at home, however, will not be soon forgotten. Mrs. Greenwald remarks, “Alex, to me and any research student who works with her, is one of the most hardworking students in our program. She has shown us that you can accomplish amazing things through sheer hours and hours of hard work. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching her grow into the confident, intelligent researcher she is today… perhaps one day she will be a speaker at our symposium.”