Making science — and sharks — accessible

Law has spent much of the summer probing how denticles influence the flow of water over a swimming shark. She learned how to use different kinds of technology to analyze skin samples and collect data on movement.

“I think lots of us, especially these days, are trying to diversify access to science and the scientific experience,” said Lauder, Henry Bryant Bigelow Professor of Ichthyology and Harvard College Professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. “That has many dimensions to it. It has dimensions of race, dimensions of economic accessibility, emotional accessibility, mental health accessibility. We’re all trying to diversify science for the future, and this is just a part of that.”

University of Florida rising senior Nick Wallis-Mauro worked with Elizabeth Sibert at Yale University as part of the program. His focus was microfossils. Sibert, who is now at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said that the goal of the research experience was to ground it in the science, not in disability.

“All of us are here for science,” she said. “As a scientist with a disability, I have felt very much alone and really appreciated any opportunities that I had to get to meet other people who also happen to be scientists and happen to be disabled in different ways.”

“I just really like sharks,” said Wallis-Mauro. “I saw this program and was like, ‘That’s crazy! Shark program for disabilities? That’s me!’”

This is the second year of the National Science Foundation grant for Lauder, Sibert, and Gareth Fraser of University of Florida to study sharks, but is the first year of the REU program. Researchers have discussed a plan to request additional funds to double the number of students next year. They also hope to inspire professors and researchers in other fields to lead similar opportunities for students with disabilities.

“It’s not hard to do … faculty just need to focus their efforts,” Lauder said.

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