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FGCU students team up with NASA for innovative water quality research

By Alexia Tsiropoulos

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    SOUTH FORT MYERS, Florida (WBBH) — NASA has landed in Fort Myers for the first time! At Florida Gulf Coast University, they are using technology to work with future scientists to analyze water quality.

“We are looking for people to make an impact on the whole ecosystem that uses NASA’s earth science information,” NASA DEVELOP program manager Kenton Ross said.

Dr. Rachel Rotz, a professor in the FGCU Department of Marine and Earth Sciences, will have the water school host this research team. NASA DEVELOP selected five future scientists to participate. Nathan Hewitt is one of them. He is working on getting his master’s degree right now at FGCU. He heard about this research opportunity and wanted to apply.

“My main goal for this was to learn more coding,” Ross said. “So the coding workshops have been fantastic. Even some of the stuff I didn’t really think about the project, but kind of working as a team, but utilizing our strengths and learning about the different kind of personality types and how they best built the team has been really interesting.”

Over the next 10 weeks, Hewitt and the four other researchers will spend part of their day at the water school looking under a microscope.

“They’re looking into cyanobacteria and understanding how organisms do their thing on a microscopic scale,” Ross said.

They are analyzing water quality near Seminole tribes in Southwest Florida.

“They’re really testing out if this information from NASA is relevant to the tribe,” Ross said. “So is the tribe is thinking about water quality in the area in their location, in and around them. They’re interested in how nutrients are flowing through those natural systems.”

They are looking at different types of algae, seeing where it is located. Then they take a look from a wider scope, up in space!

“Our purpose is to help them rise in their career, and that’s going to happen when they are energized about the knowledge they can gain and about the skills they can apply to problems like this,” Ross said.

Hewitt said he will take what he has learned from this research program and apply it to his future, maybe even working for NASA one day.

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