Wrigley Institute REU

Real Research, Real Impact

Study the coastal ocean with some of the world’s leading scientists! Funded by the National Science Foundation, our 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) gets you into the lab and into the field for hands-on, life-changing research experiences that prepare you for a career in science while advancing the twin causes of sustainability and the environment.

The 2023 Wrigley Institute REU application is now closed. More information about the next application cycle for the Wrigley Institute REU will be released early 2024. 

a group of students, some wearing masks or holding white lab coats over their shoulders, stand with a service dog on the concrete steps in front of a red brick building

How It Works

The Wrigley Institute summer REU program supports undergraduate students to conduct guided, independent research on coastal ocean processes. 

Students participate in:

  • Hands-on research experience
  • Laboratory and field training
  • Introductory lectures and special seminars on oceanography and marine science
  • Professional development workshops, networking, and science training opportunities
  • Cohort-building activities

In addition to training the next generation of ocean and marine science leaders, the Wrigley Institute REU is dedicated to enhancing equity and inclusion in oceanography and marine science. We seek mentors and student participants who can contribute to this mission both during and after participation in the program.

2023 Research Topics

REU summer projects are typically designed to contribute to existing research programs or to generate preliminary data that can be used in research proposals. Students conduct independent research under the supervision of Wrigley Institute-affiliated faculty mentors, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars. You will be asked to select your preferred research project(s) on your application. We make every effort to match students according to their preferences.

Projects based at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island

Mentor: Will Berelson, USC Professor of Geology

We are interested in testing how ocean waters, mixed with various sorts of ocean alkalization/CO2 mitigation effluent products impact ocean chemistry, ocean particles and ocean life. If you’re interested in research involving incubation experiments, of various sizes, work in and around the dock and on small boats, interested in participating in research to ’save the world’, we have the summer REU for you. This project is WMSC-based.

Mentor: Rita Mehta, UCSC Professor of Biological Sciences

Project 1: Predatory fishes rely on a myriad of senses to identify, follow and capture their prey. Our study is interested in how fishes rely on chemical stimuli and how the natural variation in the concentration of stimuli elicit a feeding response. This project is WMSC-based.

Project 2: Through long term trapping efforts, we have found that California morays, Gymnothorax mordax, are relatively abundant predatory fishes found in the rocky reefs around Catalina Island. This summer project will assist in our continued efforts to examine moray eel diet and growth rates. This project is WMSC-based.

Mentor: Sergey Nuzhdin, USC Professor of Biological Sciences

Interest is rising in the potential of giant kelp’s photosynthetic fixation of inorganic carbon for carbon capture; however, this capture is transient with respiration and decomposition releasing fixed organic carbon. This project investigates the physiological process of kelp aging in the field to understand the internal processes leading up to kelp death and carbon release. This project is WMSC-based. Note: Students who are AAUS research dive certified are preferred for this project.

Projects based at the University Park Campus in downtown Los Angeles

Mentors: Feixue Fu, USC Associate Professor (Research) in Biological Sciences; David Hutchins, USC Professor of Biological Sciences

Project 1: The student will make a unique contribution to a long-term culture study examining how marine nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria may evolve in response to global change. This microbial adaptation experiment will provide opportunities for the student to do their own discrete project on measuring a specific set of evolutionary responses, and will work closely with an established graduate student leading this larger study.

Project 2: The student will collaborate with a USC graduate student to do their own defined set of key analyses within a two lab collaborative phytoplankton culture and Earth System modeling experiment.  The overall project is working to integrate how to quantify the ways that future rising ocean temperatures may interact with the global cycles of limiting nutrients, and the student will help contribute data needed to build a new generation of climate-driven biogeochemical models.

Mentor: Myrna Jacobson, USC Adjunct Professor of Biological Sciences

We are interested in correlating the physiological state of the kelp microbiome using extracellular enzyme analysis and potentially correlating that with kelp DNA and RNA measured by other researchers. The enzymes and nutrients of kelp microbiome can be used as indicators of kelp health. We will measure nutrient content of Kelp tissue on different age fronds, frond growth location with depths, distance from growing zone of frond, and potentially laboratory grown, know genetic variants of Kelp.

Mentor: Carly Kenkel, USC Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

Climate change threatens populations, and whether organisms persist or go extinct will depend on their ability to shift their phenotypes in an adaptive direction.  This project aims to address key questions on the causes and consequences of phenotypic plasticity in a foundational Caribbean coral species, Acropora cervicornis. The REU student will specifically contribute to a lab-based water flow manipulation experiment to test the hypothesis that variation in coral morphological plasticity is driven by underlying changes in calcification and fine-scale structural variation in skeletal deposition. This project is UPC-based with the possibility of field work opportunity in FL.

Mentor: Naomi Levine, USC Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Earth Sciences

The Levine lab investigates the response of marine microbes to fluctuating environmental conditions and how these micro-scale responses impact large-scale carbon cycling.  The REU would join a team or researchers investigating how marine microbes overcome growth limitations in order to thrive in the dynamic ocean environment. The student will be involved in the development of a computational model, running model simulations, and analyzing model output.

Mentor: James Moffett, USC Professor of Biological Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering

The REU will develop a project analyzing seawater samples and seaweed for heavy metals and iodine.  The REU will ask the question to what extent is the hyperaccumulation of these metals associated with excess concentrations in their environment.  A key hypothesis is that hyperaccumulation of iodine (an antioxidant) is induced by high levels of copper in polluted environments like San Pedro Harbor.

Award Details and Eligibility

2023 dates: June 5-August 11, 2023

The 2023 Wrigley Institute REU application is now closed. More information about the next application cycle for the Wrigley Institute REU will be released early 2024. 

Participants receive:

  • A $6,000 stipend
  • Room and board at WMSC on Catalina Island and/or USC’s main campus in Los Angeles
  • Reimbursement for travel from home institutions, up to $500
  • Transportation between WMSC and USC’s main campus


  • Applicants must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the U.S.
  • Applicants must have completed at least one year of undergraduate study by the summer of their participation and must plan to be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program during the following fall semester/quarter. Applicants must not already hold a bachelor’s degree.
  • Previous research experience is NOT required.

For this REU program, special consideration will be given to students who attend a university or college in Southern California and/or institutions with limited research training opportunities, but we invite applications from all students nationwide who meet the NSF REU program’s requirements for eligibility. We especially encourage applications from students in groups that are underrepresented in geoscience fields.

See previous REU fellows, projects, and mentors >>

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1852220. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.