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June 6, 2011

Zach Gold ’13 Studies Biochemistry on the High Seas

Zach Gold '13 trims the sail.

When searching for a study abroad opportunity, Zach Gold ’13 (North Kingstown, R.I.) had some specific requirements: It had to be an adventure, and it had to include field research. He signed up for the unique SEA semester and spent the spring term aboard SEA’s newest vessel, the 134-foot steel brigantine Robert C. Seamans.

David Sunderlin, assistant professor of geology and a SEA alum, first told me of the program. He described it as one of the greatest things he had ever done and that got me interested for sure,” says Gold, who had limited sailing experience prior to the trip. “I was excited about the prospect of living in a small community capable of surviving and thriving, completely isolated from the world.”

Aboard the ship, which has a wet/dry lab, Gold studied deep chlorophyll maximum (DCM), which is a measurement of the concentration of chlorophyll in the ocean or lakes, within the North Pacific. Calling data collection at sea “an experience in itself,” he explored the extent of variation of the depth and intensity of the DCM and how the variation is related to depth, light level, and eddy action. In all, Gold sailed 3,500 nautical miles.

“The responsibility was electrifying, and sometimes highly daunting,” he says. “Storms sometimes ravaged the ship, but the incredible weather, sunrises, sunsets, and stars were much more common. Learning to sail a tall ship is great fun. By the end of the trip, the students were running every aspect of life at sea. The ocean throws at you a constant series of difficult tests, but the rewards you find at sea are well worth the challenges.”

A biochemistry major, Gold hopes to make a career in coastal and wetland conservation and development. At sea, he saw firsthand the devastation of pollution on marine life.

“The amount of plastic we collected and observed in literally the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from land, is sickening,” he says. “The opportunity to see this tragedy has reinforced my aspirations to help address the numerous and serious threats to the planet’s natural resources.”

To further his educational endeavors, Gold received the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship, which provides $16,000 over two years in financial aid and a 10-week summer internship at any NOAA agency in the country. Gold plans to spend next summer in Seattle as an intern with the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

“I was intrigued by the scholarship’s emphasis on stewardship of the world’s natural resources and its multidisciplinary character,” explains Gold. “The development of functional environmental stewardship is crucial. I want to be part of that, and this scholarship seemed a great way to become involved.”

The environment isn’t Gold’s only passion. When he’s not out trying to preserve natural resources, he’s the front man for Lafayette student rock band Tiny Hero Cavalry.

“I love music. I’ve been playing and singing since the eighth grade, and it consumed most of my time in high school,” says Gold. “To me, life without music is insane; music is a must. The band has been writing and playing music as much as possible, and we hope to play lots of concerts next year both on- and off-campus.”

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