Mr. James Murphy is an undergraduate researcher in the Richmond Lab. From a very young age, science in general has been his passion – from volunteering with local sustainability programs to spending hours studying roller coaster physics to shadowing pharmacists and surgeons. As early as elementary school, he was spending his time reading science magazines, participating in science fairs, and taking trips to the Liberty Science Center and tide pools along the shores of New Jersey. It wasn't until high school that he began to focus his interests towards marine biology and biochemistry.
"Under the mentorship of my high school biology teacher, I began researching alternative energy sources, such as ethanol, hydrogen, compressed natural gas, and bio-diesel. I eventually developed this work into my junior year thesis," explains James.
He took his project further by working with the superintendent of the Educational Services Commission in his district to develop a proposal to test the efficiency of different diesel fuels in school buses. His project was awarded funding from the New Jersey Academy of Science.
His work with alternative fuel sources led to an interest in sustainable, algal-based bio-fuels, and particularly how such bio-fuels could provide Pacific Islanders with a means of producing their own energy source.
"I decided to come to Hawaii to study, in part, because of the research going on at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, but also because of my native Hawaiian ancestry," said James. "Plus, I've always known that I wanted to go to grad school, and I knew that an undergraduate degree from UH would put me in a good position to continue on in my graduate studies."
While at UH, James has been involved in the Marine Options Program (MOP) and has participated in several field research training courses, including the rigorous Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques (QUEST) course on the Big Island, and an ecological survey course in Kaneohe Bay in conjunction with NOAA and the Division of Aquatic Resources.
"During my second year of QUEST, I was a leader for a group of divers, and rather than collecting data, I helped guide my team through surveying techniques, paper writing, and supervising data collection and analysis," said James. In recognition of his leadership skills at QUEST, James received the Sherwood D. Maynard Leadership Award.
James has also somehow found the time to earn his University of Hawaii Scientific Diver authorization, with certifications as a rescue, master, and nitrox diver.
James is here at Kewalo Marine Lab working with the Richmond group through the Minorities Access to Research Careers (MARC) program. James has been performing ecotoxicology work examining coral protein function and biomarker presence in coral tissue. Although his current biochemistry/molecular-based work with corals is quite different from the ecology-based training he completed in the past, James is very much enjoying the new challenges this type of research provides.
"Working with Jon Martinez, I've been looking at enzyme activity and quantifying lactate production in corals that are being smothered by invasive algae," explains James. "I have been running colorimetric assays on Porites compressa samples to quantify the concentration of lactate and activity of lactate dehydrogenase in tissues."
James hopes that the results of these assays will provide an understanding of the coral's biochemical responses to oxidative stress when they are overgrown by algae. This research also has potential for helping to understand how long corals can undergo oxidative stress before dying and how resilient they are upon algae removal.
"Ideally, we will be able to determine what environmental parameters are deadly to corals and, upon restoration of the habitat, how long it would take corals to return to a healthy state," explains James. "This can shape how future invasive algae management is addressed and grant us a greater ability to act essentially as 'coral doctors' and quantitatively assess coral health with the goal of conserving and preserving coral reef ecosystems."
James plans on continuing his studies at the graduate level, in the areas of ecology and evolution, marine natural products discovery, or the development of renewable bio-fuels.
"The techniques I have learned here at the University of Hawaii have given me the skills and preparation for my next academic stage and I look forward to the pursuit of greater interdisciplinary knowledge, while hoping to remain involved with the research community in Hawaii."