HPU Alumna co-authors paper impacting how scientists collect future data

HPU Alumna co-authors paper impacting how scientists collect future data

Nan Himmelsbach

Nan Himmelsbach, a spring 2021 graduate in Hawai‘i Pacific University’s (HPU) Master of Science in Marine Science program (MSMS), co-authored a paper that hopes to change how scientists collect information for future studies. 

The paper entitled “Poor data stewardship will hinder global genetic diversity surveillance” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The paper details thousands of publications, some of which are missing crucial information such as dates or locations from collected data. The missing data proves to be a gap for future biodiversity and conservation efforts.

The project incorporated 21 researchers spanning six different time zones across multiple institutions. Himmelsbach was among 13 undergraduate and graduate students involved with this paper. 

“This whole effort and the paper specifically are pretty integral to actually pointing to a specific issue that we have within the genetic community,” Himmelsbach said. “Our hopeful impact with all of this is that we would really be able to encourage people to re-work their frame of thinking when collecting all this information and putting it out there even if it’s not directly relevant to their study.”

Originating from just outside Boston, Massachusetts, Himmelsbach completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, with a degree in Environmental Science & Policy and a concentration in Biology & Biodiversity and a minor in Sustainability. 

After completing her undergraduate studies Himmelsbach developed a keen interest in ocean sciences after watching ocean-related media and being alongside the East Coast.

“My interest in the ocean really came from just growing up around it,” Himmelsbach said. “The ocean was something accessible and I was always the kid digging through the sand trying to find crabs or collecting things through buckets.”

In her search of various graduation programs across the country Himmelsbach learned of HPU and met Matthew Iacchei, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Marine Science. Himmelsbach credits Iacchei as a mentor who has guided her research and career goals, and was an integral part in her attendance at HPU.

“He opened up a whole new door to me in terms of being creative and going my own way and letting me go through some of the challenges of creating your own project or breaking into a field that’s unfamiliar,” Himmelsbach said. “From that I was able to learn a lot, and that really shaped my outlook on where I want my career to go and what I look for in a mentor.”

While enrolled at HPU, her graduate thesis focused on environmental DNA metabarcoding of stomach contents in opah (moonfish) and researching their diets. After graduating, her work then continued on to the Joint Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Research, where she continues similar genetic work with different fish such as mahimahi.

When recalling her time at HPU, one of her biggest takeaways from the program was her cohort in the MSMS program.

“Everybody was from all over the place and had different backgrounds. We all really meshed together,” Himmelsbach said. “It gave me a really great support system, a whole bunch of friends that I valued. I think the relationships that I had made coming into the program are truly something I will take away forever.”

For more information about HPU’s MSMS program, click here.