-Caroline A. Littlefield
MPEA’s very own Lina Mattsson and Maurice Hirwa are two of our most recent students to become Masters of Science in Aquatic Ecology. In the past week, they both presented their final thesis work, both of which focused on the use of microalgae for sustainable solutions. Maurice, who hails from Rwanda originally, discussed the effect of microalgal harvesting methods on biomass quality, and Lina, a native Smålander from Gnosjö, worked to disentangle the seasonal effects of neutral lipid content in natural microalgal communities from the Baltic Sea.
In both presentations, our students highlighted the oft-unanswered question, “Why do we care about this?” Both Lina and Maurice pointed to the very real possibilities to use microalgae as a future sustainable resource for products such as biofuel and animal fodder. Lina emphasized the date of Earth Overshoot Day – August 8th 2016 – when we as citizens of the earth began living on “borrowed time,” and need to begin working seriously towards sustainable development goals. Maurice also focused on the sustainable advantages of microalgae as a resource, as well as computed the Life Cycle Analyses of microalgae harvesting methods to determine its sustainable efficiency, due to the fact that there is still a great amount of electricity needed for harvesting.
While Lina and Maurice take some time to complete their corrections following the thesis discussions, I sat down with both of the newly-minted Masters of Science to learn a bit more about where their interest in aquatic ecology stems from, and where they plan to go from here.
CAL: What led each of you to pursue your advanced studies in Aquatic Ecology? What had you done before this?
LM: I studied Marine Ecology and Freshwater Ecology here at LNU. Both of the courses were really interesting to me and I learned a lot. My Bachelor thesis was part of Algoland; it focused on the pilot study of Moskogen, and we were researching to see if one community of algae could reduce the ammonium in the water there.
MH: I was born and raised in Rwanda, which is in the Great Lakes region of Africa. When I was growing up, I never met any single person who didn’t like being close to the water there – it made me realize how important aquatic ecosystems really are. When it came to my studies, I focused on biology and decided it was important to work on research related to the water. I chose to come to Sweden because of this area of study… I wanted a country that has a long coast, and also that is using mostly English, which can be a challenge to find in other places!
CAL: For your thesis defense, you’ve both chosen to concentrate your hypotheses on microalgae and sustainability. How has your work in Algoland influenced your thesis and do you plan to develop more work in this field?
MH: When I came here I got the opportunity to be a part of MPEA (Marine Phytoplankton Ecology and Applications), and through different seminars I got to know different research projects, like Algoland. I thought was a very cool project. I believe that science should solve problems in the society. If you look at what Algoland is doing, it works to solve difficult problems in society; makes me feel like I am making the world better. I have been working at LNU since July, and it’s something I really enjoy. It’s a great team, and I looking forward to keep contributing.
LM: For me, research is of course important in general, but like Maurice said, what we really have to do is couple research to society, and not simply stay within the small bubble of the university. Often, we have a lot of answers but we have to notify decision makers, school systems, and the general public. I am planning to do a PhD within the Algoland project – and hopefully contribute to the Moskogen project as well – full circle!
CAL: What surprised you most during your two-year Master’s program?
MH: I have mostly been surprised by the learning by doing approach at this university, or at least in my program. Since I came here, we have been involved in different projects – it wasn’t just sitting in class, it was about working on actual research. This helped a lot, both in learning aquatic ecology, as well as being independent; I really benefited from that. When I think about this learning approach, it calls to mind a saying that goes “Teach me and I forget; involve me, then I learn.”
LM: For me, I have also gotten quite independent. I still need supervision, but I can come up with my own hypotheses. This program forces you to develop your own tools for research.
Congratulations to both Lina and Maurice for their hard work, and best of luck to them in their future endeavors!