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When Your Office is Lake Erie

1:41 pm, Wed November 2, 2022 – MK Rinderle is senior environmental science major at The Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources. In 2022, she spent the summer at Stone Lab as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Fellowship Program

a young woman stands next to a research tank

Mary Kate “MK” Rinderle spent the summer as part of Stone Lab’s REU Fellowship Program, an experience that set her on the path to a career in water science.

When Mary Kate Rinderle started out at The Ohio State University, she had a lot of different ideas on what she wanted to do, but all of them seemed impossible. Spending the summer on a remote island on Lake Erie sounded completely out of the question. But, after changing majors half-a-dozen times and taking a water science course in the School of Environmental and Natural Resources, that idea didn’t seem so far-fetched after all.

Shortly after that water science class, Mary Kate, or MK as most people call her, changed her major to Environmental Science. She knew she wanted to study harmful algal blooms, but most of the research she was doing in her classes at Ohio State’s Columbus campus were done in one-liter bottles of water shipped in from Lake Erie. While these small-scale experiments were inexpensive and relatively easy, MK always wondered if their results were really applicable in larger bodies of water. This question would become the foundation for her own research at Stone Laboratory.

MK appreciates her opportunity to work with Dr. Justin Chaffin, a specialist in algal blooms and Stone Lab’s research coordinator. “Every single day working with him, I learned something new about the field itself,” she says. While at the lab, Chaffin also introduced her to other visiting researchers who became valuable resources and connections for her.

Instead of the small bottles she was used to using back on campus, on Gibraltar Island, MK got to work with the lab’s new mesocosm tanks, which can hold hundreds of gallons of water straight from the lake. Working with the tanks and other specialized equipment allowed her to expand her research further than was possible back in Columbus. The data MK collected will be a huge help as she and other researchers continue to combat the increase in toxin-producing algal blooms in Lake Erie—ensuring safe drinking water for the millions of people living nearby.

“When I think of studying lakes, my experience with the REU at Stone Lab is what I think of. It was awesome.”
MK Rinderle

“When I think of studying lakes, my experience with the REU at Stone Lab is what I think of,” MK remembers. “It was awesome.”

Thanks to this Research Experience for Undergraduates Fellowship, MK’s aspirations of working outdoors and exploring new places suddenly seemed to come into focus. She began applying to graduate schools and realized how much of a leg-up her time on Gibraltar Island gave her. Almost every advisor she’s spoken with has wanted to hear about it, and she recalls that summer fondly.

As she prepares to graduate from Ohio State, MK considers her time at Stone Lab to be the highlight of her undergraduate career. Even though it took her some time to find her way to water science, she wouldn’t change her path for the world. She feels the experience was unique to Stone Lab and unlike any she ever had on campus. Now she encourages future students to take advantage of the opportunity to take their research out of the classroom and onto a Great Lake.

“Be prepared for the most unusual summer of your life!”

ARTICLE TITLE: When Your Office is Lake Erie PUBLISHED: 1:41 pm, Wed November 2, 2022
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Laura Scobell
Authored By: Laura Scobell
Writing Intern, Ohio Sea Grant College Program  FIND MORE TAGGED as DEVELOPMENT, RESEARCH, STONE LAB