Scientific Curiosity is His Compass

Shine Ling

To anyone unfamiliar with what Shine Ling calls “real research,” the notion that laboratory inquiry is “thrilling” might seem over the top. But Shine, a graduate in biology from UCSB’s College of Creative Studies (CCS), is serious. “I’m not talking about experiments that are repeated in laboratory courses for the zillionth time,” he says. “All that is basic, yes—however, I’m referring to asking entirely new questions in the lab. When we find out the answers, we’ve created new knowledge!”

Shine did exactly that during the three years he spent in marine biologist Alice Alldredge’s lab at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute. His research with Professor Alldredge showed that the transparent particles that phytoplankton produce carry bacteria and—contrary to what scientists once thought—are consumed by tiny marine animals. The findings add to a changing picture of the ocean’s food webs. “It’s hard to describe the feeling of learning something new,” says Shine. “It’s a real thrill! And that opportunity is available to all undergraduates.”

So far, Shine’s habit of following his interests has taken him up and down the coast of California and to Central America. After transferring to UCSB from De Anza College, a community college in Cupertino, California, at the start of his sophomore year, he went off to Costa Rica to study tropical ecology during spring quarter. There, he did an independent research project on the mutually beneficial relationship between a fig tree—which is important to animals in the rainforest community—and its tiny pollinating wasp. Upon his return, he joined the Alldredge lab.
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Marine bacteria, fluorescing as bright dots, inhabiting transparent exopolymer particles.

Significant Opportunities in Three Countriesling 2

The following summer, Shine obtained a position in San Diego examining the ecology of the cholera-causing bacterium Vibrio cholerae in the ocean. In his senior year, still curious about the mutualisms he had witnessed in Costa Rica, he sent an e-mail message to a scientist from the Smithsonian Institution who was working on figs and wasps in Panama and asked about an internship. The scientist said yes, and funded half of the trip; a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the College of Creative Studies covered the rest.

Of his years in the Alldredge lab Shine says: “What I valued most about doing research with Professor Alldredge was her mentorship. She gave me a lot of responsibility, and showed me what real science is like—the work involved, the disappointments, and the surprises. The experience helped me confirm that I enjoy doing science and designing experiments. It will also help me figure out what kind of research I would be interested in doing.”

The research Shine completed earned him UCSB’s Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research and accolades from faculty. Says Professor Alldredge: “Ten years from now I expect Shine to be one of the broadest thinkers in evolutionary biology.” Adds Armand Kuris, CCS associate provost and a marine biologist: “He will assume a prominent place in international science.”

As Shine considers the countless options available to him, he says he will “continue to follow my curiosity—wherever it takes me.” Stay tuned.