Two teenagers work with marine scientists to achieve big results.

The six-week placement of two Aberdeen students on with Marine Scotland Science (MMS), through the Nuffield Science Bursary Programme, has proved to be highly successful.

In summer 2010 Katie Forbes carried out a study in to the efficiency of plankton nets, a measure used to assess the impact of climate change. She went on to receive a Gold Award from the British Science Association, while in June she won the Tomorrow’s Water science competition, held by the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management. As a result she was chosen to represent the UK as a finalist at the international Stockholm Junior Water Prize in August.

Meanwhile, Mairi Bell, this summer’s placement student, made a break-through that will help scientists determine the health of a marine ecosystem. Her work involved successfully applying fluorescent staining to shrimp eggs to determine if they will hatch. The health of crustaceans is a key indicator into the effects of ocean acidification and global warming of the sea.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland has a proud heritage of scientific innovation and in the 21st century we are a world leader for marine science research. To maintain this position we need to engage the next generation and promote the opportunities a science career can offer. That’s why I’m pleased young people are being given the opportunity to spend a summer working alongside our marine scientists in Aberdeen.

“Not only have these students been able to gain excellent work experience, but they have also had some real success – as demonstrated by Katie’s award-winning research and the very promising findings achieved by Mairi.

“Both of these projects have important applications for assessing the impact of climate change, which could prove critical in our efforts to safeguard Scotland’s native species and unique marine ecosystems for future generations.”

Katie, a former Kincorth Academy pupil, is now studying marine science at the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Dunstaffnage campus near Oban. She said: “My project at Marine Scotland Science involved establishing the efficiency of the plankton nets used in North Sea sampling, working both in the laboratory in Aberdeen and carrying out experiments on board a vessel off the coast of Stonehaven.

“My whole experience with MSS has been fantastic. Everyone at the Marine Lab was so helpful and made me feel very welcome, as did the crew of the Temora. I’ve learnt so much and gained an insight in to many different types of work in marine science.

“I feel this project has prepared me for life after secondary school in a way that my school experiences never could. I would recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to carry out a Nuffield project to take full advantage of this life changing experience.”

Mairi, now a sixth year pupil at Hazelhead Academy in Aberdeen, said: “I’ve always had a keen interest in biology so I was delighted to be given this opportunity under the Nuffield Scheme. The project seemed mind-bogglingly complex to start with, but as we worked through the experiments I gained a huge understanding of what it was we were trying to achieve, how we were going about it and why it was such a big deal.

“Throughout the project I learned so much and gained a valuable insight into scientific research and techniques, mainly due to the inexhaustible patience and understanding of my mentors, John Dunn and Dr Kathryn Cook.

“John and Kathryn put me at my ease and explained some fairly tricky science in a way that I was able to understand and then apply to my project work. I would like to thank all the staff at Marine Scotland Science for all their help and encouragement – I really enjoyed every minute.

MSS Mentor John Dunn, from the Healthy & Biologically Diverse Seas Team, said: “Both Katie and Mairi’s commitment was commendable and I am very impressed by the hard work they put in while at Marine Scotland Science. I believe that both pupils have a bright future if they choose to pursue careers in science.

“Katie’s knowledge of a difficult subject, her general enthusiasm and her ability to confidently answer a host of searching questions from professional scientists was very impressive. I am privileged, alongside Dr Kathryn Cook, to have been one of her mentors.

“In determining the viability of crustacean eggs by using fluorescent staining, in only a few weeks Mairi has successfully developed a new protocol that scientists have been working on for some time. Her attitude while working with us has been first class and I’m pleased that she has been able to deliver some exciting results.”