A Fascination With Conservation

Nick Long

Nick Long ’19 

Nick Long ’19 loved to spend time outdoors as a kid, exploring the natural world. At Dickinson, he got involved with ALLARM and engaged in research with a postdoctorate researcher at Harvard. After studying the gill chambers of flatfish in southern Maine, the biology major will present his original research at the annual conference of the Society for Integrated and Comparative Biology in San Francisco this spring.



Clubs and organizations:

WDCV college radio, Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM), Jive Turkeys Ultimate Frisbee and Arts Collective.


Burkholder Biology Prize.

On choosing my major:  

I decided to be a biology major because I’ve always been interested in other forms of life and how they’re connected to nature. A lot of my childhood took place outdoors, and finding cool critters and new plants was the most exciting part of those experiences. I’ve also been interested in environmental science and conservation for much of my life, and I think that studying biology is a good way of learning how to preserve the most beautiful and important parts of nature.

Favorite class/learning experience:  

My favorite class was Field Methods with [Visiting Instructor in Environmental Studies Kim] Van Fleet. We spent most of our time outside, learning how to do field research. I learned a lot of valuable skills that I think will continue to be useful in my career. The final exam included using a compass to find the way back to our minibus from a random point in Tuscarora State Forest. My partner and I ended up getting lost for about an hour and a half, while everybody else found their way back in about 45 minutes. This experience taught me to always check my compass bearing twice before using it to find my way back somewhere.

On choosing Dickinson:    

I chose Dickinson because of its commitment to sustainability and to preparing students to be global citizens. My initial plan coming into Dickinson was to major in environmental science, but I ended up falling in love with my biology courses. I also think that the campus is beautiful and has lots of accessible and beautiful outdoor areas near it. I was impressed with the students, faculty and alumni who I met during my tour and in various meetings.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

The broccoli cheddar soup in a bread bowl. Nothing can beat it.

If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …  
… Rachel Carson, for sure. I consider her to be my top role model because of her scientific and literary work in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and her success in helping create the modern environmental movement. She also wrote three popular books about marine biology, which helped bring the ocean and its creatures to the public audience.

About my internship:

I interned at the New England Aquarium for two years as a high-schooler, both as a visitor educator and an assistant aquarist. This internship appealed to me because I love marine biology and conservation, and the New England Aquarium combines both of these. I was able to teach all sorts of people about marine conservation issues and the amazing animals affected by them. Part of what I learned was how to talk to different people about environmental issues and science in general. Science communication is now really important to me. I think a scientifically literate public is one of the most important elements of an advanced society.

I’ve also been working at ALLARM since the beginning of my sophomore year, including seven weeks this past summer. ALLARM is a nonprofit housed at the college that works to help communities utilize aquatic science all over Pennsylvania and the rest of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. My time at ALLARM has reinforced to me the value of science in communities, especially those affected by various polluters. I’ve learned that a great number of community members are interested in learning about and protecting their waterways.

In a perfect world … 

… my cat, Max, could live with me at Dickinson and come with me to all my classes.

About my research:       

I’ve been working on a project at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology for the past year on the anatomy and function of the gill chamber of a family of deep sea anglerfishes called chaunacidae, also known as sea toads or coffin fishes. My project focuses on the nature of respiration in these fishes: how it works, how and why it evolved and how it relates to the fishes’ ecology. I’m working on this with a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University. We’re interested in this project because sea toads exhibit a uniquely large gill chamber, and it is relevant to their life strategy and the evolution of anglerfishes.

I’ll be presenting a poster at the annual conference of the Society for Integrated and Comparative Biology in San Francisco this January, and I’m hoping to get my research published as a paper in the near future. Through this experience, I’ve learned how to tackle an independent research project effectively, along with how to get my work published.

This summer, I contributed to a project on the anatomy and function of a specialized area of bone and muscle between the left and right gill chambers of flatfishes with the same Harvard postdoctoral researcher. This project is interesting because it seeks to illuminate how flatfishes bury themselves in the sandy bottom. The hypothesis that this project seeks to test is whether they jet water out of their gill opening to kick up the sand and bury themselves more quickly. My part of the work is to attempt to find skeletal and muscular structures between the two gill chambers that could contribute to jetting water out of the openings. I worked on this project at Shoals Marine Laboratory, which is housed on Appledore Island off the coast of southern Maine. I had the ability to pursue this project thanks to the Burkholder Biology Prize from the Dickinson biology department, which gave me the funds to work on the island for two weeks. I honed my dissection and drawing skills thanks to the many fish I used to describe the anatomy.

I decided to take on these projects because of the valuable opportunities they presented to work on real research projects in marine biological academia. These experiences continue to inform my career trajectory.

Post-Dickinson plans:

I hope to do field marine research that is relevant to marine conservation and the environment. This work could be with a governmental agency or a nonprofit organization, as long as I can see a tangible impact from my work. I think that I’d be most happy in a position that works with community members to address their local natural resource issues or helping contribute to work on a global scale.


Published November 14, 2017