Williams-Mystic Research and Public Impact

Independent research is at the core of the Williams-Mystic experience, and students conduct research projects in all four disciplines over the course of the 17-week semester. There’s nothing quite like venturing into the field to help you understand how science is made, delving into the archives to understand how history is written, or connecting one-on-one interviews with a stakeholder who works in the policy topic of your choice. With students coming to Williams-Mystic from across many different majors and academic backgrounds, these independent research projects give them the opportunity to draw on their pre-existing interests and expertise or discover new passions that turn into theses or even careers.

Examples of recent student projects:

Literature of the Sea

  • Wabanaki Piracy and Indigenous Maritime Knowledge
  • Williams-Mystic: A Graphic Novel

American Maritime History

  • Fur-midable Predators: The Purr-fect Companion at Sea [shipboard cats]
  • Construction of the Christian Cannibal: The Development of Shipwreck Cannibalism in the American Collective Consciousness
  • Fashion, Fun, and Friends: Barbie’s California Girl Beach Identity
  • The Story of Asian Immigrant Workers in Alaska

Marine Policy

  • Right Whales and Wind: Possible Coexistence of North Atlantic Right Whales and Offshore Wind Development
  • Towards Sustainable Native Hawaiian Access to Green Sea Turtle Take
  • Pollution in Port: Cruise Ship Emissions- Problems and Solutions
  • A Fighting Chance: Cancer Alley
  • A Coastal Climate Injustice: Chelsea, MA
  • The Impact of the National Flood INsurance Program’s Risk Rating 2.0 on Southern Louisiana

Oceanographic Processes

  • Expect the Unexpected: "Calculating Marsh Accretion Rates in Barn Island Wildlife Management Area”
  • Mapping the Properties and Distribution of Coal on Napatree Point Beach
  • Shifting Sands: The hardening of New England Coastlines
  • Marsh Mania: Interpreting the Environmental History of Wequetequock Marsh

Marine Ecology

  • Impacts of Temperature on the Photosynthetic Rate of Fucus Vesiculous Seaweed
  • Microplastics in Marshes around Mystic, CT
  • Nutrient levels near wastewater outfalls in coastal CT sites and their implications for local water quality and primary productivity
  • Macroalgae Diversity Increased at Weekapaug Point, RI from 2010-2023

Research Facilities

James T. Carlton Marine Science Center

The James T. Carlton Marine Science Center (CMSC) is a 24/7-access, 8,000-square-foot research facility situated in close proximity to both student housing and diverse natural environments such as estuaries, marshes, rocky intertidal zones, and sandy beaches. The center’s main floor is equipped with an open laboratory, a 320-gallon touch tank aquaria, the Marine Ecology research lab, and analytical instruments. Additionally, it houses environmental chambers, an equipment room for fieldwork (e.g. transects, quadrats, a variety of environmental loggers, surveying equipment, etc. ), a teaching classroom, a library, a computing facility, and an archive off all previous research projects back to 1977. Downstairs in the CMSC is the Williams-Mystic Wet Lab which has three 400-gallon aquarium racks for scientific investigation that can manipulate a wide range of temperatures and salinities. Also in the downstairs spaces there is the Geosciences lab, as well as  a garage that houses our 1650 gallon water maker system for all the closed aquariums,  the storage of tools and research vessels, and a work bench to construct equipment for research projects. This comprehensive research center serves as the hub for marine science research and education at Williams-Mystic.

Field Sites

From the CMSC, students can easily access many field sites along the Mystic River Estuary and Southern Connecticut and Rhode Island Coastlines. We have a fleet of kayaks as well as two power boats, Pelican (a 26-foot center console Eastern) and Sandpiper (a 16-foot aluminum flatboat with an electric torqeedo engine). Within  driving or boating distance are a variety of habitats; these include salt marshes, tide pools, sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, salt ponds, nearshore oceanic environments, and mudflats. Throughout the semester, students visit field sites both as a class and individually to collect data for their independent research.

Mystic Seaport Museum (MSM)

With 17 coastal acres and 60 buildings to explore, the Mystic Seaport Museum provides a unique and inviting setting for classes and free time. Whether you’re working on a project in your skills course, sailing on the Mystic River, reading a book aboard the Charles W. Morgan, or throwing a frisbee on the green, the space is yours to explore at any time!

Collections Research Center (CRC) at MSM

The Collections Research Center is the nation’s leading maritime research facility, home to over two million examples of maritime artifacts, tools, documents, photographs, and more! Williams-Mystic students are able to use this space to aid their research, and the CRC staff are always willing to help. 

Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group

In the Marine Policy course, each student is a member of the Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group.  Each student chooses to study a current unresolved question impacting America’s coastlines and oceans. They then interview a myriad of stakeholders with a vested interest in the outcome of the issue, examine relevant federal and state laws, regulations, and conduct cross-disciplinary research in order to develop credible policy strategies and solutions to their real-world problems.

This problem-based approach empowers students to gain the knowledge, confidence, and skills to address major questions and issues in all fields. It also provides the coastal stakeholder community with an opportunity to benefit from capable research, objective investigations, and collaboration with the only undergraduate college program that examines the ocean from an interdisciplinary lens, while seeking opportunities to empower global problem-solving.

Research Projects

Carolina Andrade F'22: Right Whales and Wind: Possible Coexistence of North Atlantic Right Whales and Offshore Wind Development

David Luongo F'22: The Impact of the National Flood Insurance Program’s Risk Rating 2.0 on Southern Louisiana

Marika Massey-Bierman F'22: The Future of PCB Cleanup in the New Bedford Harbor

Sam Sidders F'22: How should Washington State Sustainably and Effectively Respond to a Persistent and Predatory Invader, the European Green Crab (Carcinus maenas)?

Jenna Stanley F'22: Examining the Proposed Revision of the Critical Habitat Designation for North Pacific Right Whales

Alison Zhang F'22: Managing Salmon Stocks Between Southern Resident Killer Whales and Southeast Alaskan Fishing Communities

Clara Benadon S'22: Sounds Like Trouble: How The IMO Can Incentivize Quiet Ships Across the Arctic

Robin Henrikson S'22: The Lower Snake River Dam Controversy: Balancing Conservation, Agricultural Transportation, Tribal Rights, and Green Energy

Declan Houlihan S'22: CA Ballast Water Regulation and the Future of the State’s Role

Gabrielle Granata, Williams College Fall 2020: A Coastal Climate Injustice: Chelsea, MA 

Jinwoo Kang, Williams College Fall 2020: A Fighting Chance: Cancer Alley 

Kate Gehl S'20: Wakesurfing in the Newberg Pool on Oregon’s Willamette River: Recreation, Preservation, and Regulation

Stefan Kuklinsky S'20: Pollution in Port: Cruise Ship Emissions - Problems and Solutions

Zach Arfa F'19: The Future of Maine Aquaculture: Growth and Sustainability in Fish Farming

Hazel Atwill F'19: The Future of the Liquified Natural Gas Facility in Tacoma, Washington

Jeff Erazo F'19: Protecting New Jersey’s Meadowlands and Local Communities from Floods and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Colin Goodbred F'19: Towards Sustainable Native Hawaiian Access to Green Sea Turtle Take