Zinsmeyer Summer Research Program

Dive into Marine and Sustainability Research

Study the coastal ocean with some of the world’s leading scientists! The 10-week Zinsmeyer Summer Research Program gets USC Dornsife students into the lab and into the field for hands-on, life-changing experiences that prepare you for a career in science while advancing the twin causes of sustainability and the environment.

Zinsmeyer Summer Research Program Dates: June 10–August 16, 2024

The application period for the 2024 Zinsmeyer Summer Research Program is now closed.

Four divers donned in scuba gear gather with their heads above water to take a selfie

How It Works

The Zinsmeyer Summer Research Program supports USC Dornsife undergraduate students to conduct guided, independent research on coastal ocean processes at the Wrigley Marine Science Center (WMSC) on Catalina Island. The program is open to all Dornsife undergraduates, but priority will be given to majors and minors from the Environmental Studies Program. Zinsmeyer students join a cohort with students from the Wrigley Institute REU, giving participants in both programs the opportunity to interact and forge connections with a diverse group of peers from a variety of schools.

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

2024 Tentative Research Topics and Labs 

See below for this year’s areas of focus for the Zinsmeyer Summer Research Program. Students will conduct research under the supervision of Wrigley Institute-affiliated faculty mentors, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars. Research topics and labs subject to change. 

Dr. Suzanne Edmands’ Lab

Location: Wrigley Marine Science Center

In this project we will investigate the dynamics of natural Tigriopus californicus populations and their responses to abiotic conditions, specifically sex ratio and heat tolerance. It will involve daily field sampling of three local tidepool populations of copepods which will then be analyzed in the lab for thermal tolerance and sex ratio. Additionally, general upkeep of field sensors will need to be performed periodically. Finally, data will be combined and analyzed to help uncover what abiotic factors drive changes in these populations. Results will help to understand plasticity and population dynamics of an organism living in an extremely dynamic environment. Field work will involve mildly strenuous hikes to the study site.

Dr. Jed Fuhrman’s Lab

Location: University Park Campus and Wrigley Marine Science Center

Marine RNA viruses – join us in investigating how marine RNA viruses affect micro algal blooms and influence carbon sequestration in the world’s ocean systems. Marine RNA viruses predominantly infect micro algae and remain largely understudied in the field of marine microbial ecology. This project will involve daily sampling of several large mesocosms at Catalina, as well as techniques to extract DNA and RNA from seawater and count marine RNA viruses by fluorescence microscopy. You would also learn how to prepare RNA and DNA for sequencing and to process the sequencing information (bioinformatics) to discover new algal viruses and study their ecological impacts. Your work would contribute to better understanding the role marine RNA viruses play in driving phytoplankton mortality, regulating bloom events, and contributing to the sequestration of carbon in the world’s oceans.

Dr. John Heidelberg’s Lab

Primary Mentor: Dr. Ryan Guillemette 

Location: Wrigley Marine Science Center

Join us in characterizing eDNA within the Marine Protected Area off Catalina Island, where cutting-edge techniques allow us to detect the presence of organisms through the sequencing of shed DNA in seawater. This approach enables us to identify organisms even in cases where direct observation is challenging. Methods may include field sampling, molecular techniques, and microscopy. This project is WMSC-based.

Dr. Rita Mehta’s Lab

Location: Wrigley Marine Science Center

Topic 1: Join us in investigating the diet and growth rates of the California moray eel. This project is a long term trapping effort aimed at understanding the functional ecology of the California moray in the kelp forest ecosystem. You will learn how to extract and identify prey, measure, and PIT tag morays adding on to a long term data set. Through this endeavor, you will gain familiarity with using spreadsheets and conducting statistical analyses in R-studio.

Topic 2: Many fishes rely on chemosensory cues to identify and apprehend prey. For this project, we will be examining the morphology of the olfactory cavity for a diversity of benthic fish species which are found in the kelp forest ecosystem. You will learn how to conduct behavioral assays and measure and quantify olfactory morphology for a variety of fish species. Through this research, you will gain familiarity with using R-studio for basic statistical analyses.

Award Details and Application Requirements

The application period for the 2024 Zinsmeyer Summer Research Program is now closed.

2024 program dates: June 10–August 16, 2024

*Later start date available for students participating in Maymester

Participants receive:  

  • A $600/week summer stipend
  • Room and board at WMSC on Catalina Island
  • Research training and experience 
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Opportunities to present their research at a regional or national conference


Continuing USC Dornsife undergraduate students (students who are not graduating in May 2024). Application is open to all Dornsife undergraduates, but priority will be given to Environmental Studies majors and minors.

How to Apply:

Students who are interested in the Zinsmeyer program should apply via the Wrigley Institute REU application. Please indicate that you are a USC student and would like to be considered for a Zinsmeyer internship in the essay question, “Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?”  The REU and Zinsmeyer programs are the same in structure and content, but the Zinsmeyer is only open to USC students while the REU program is open to students nationwide.  USC students who indicate that they would like to be considered for the Zinsmeyer program will be considered for both the REU and Zinsmeyer programs.

2023 Zinsmeyer Students