Campus award helps undergrad continue work on coral reef restoration


Julia Park

Haley Tholen
Haley Tholen
Undergraduate Haley Tholen was one of just eight students from campus to be selected to the inaugural class of Undergraduate Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Research Scholars for 2020-21.

Tholen, who will be a senior in engineering mechanics next year, has been working in Professor Amy Wagoner Johnson’s lab since her freshman year in MechSE. Tholen said the broad goal of her research with Wagoner Johnson is to engineer a substrate that will aid in coral larval settlement and survival, giving the reefs a better chance of recovering. Coral larval settlement is the bottleneck in restoration efforts, and by engineering materials and structures, the team is working to help provide larvae with a permanent settlement site.

“I have had an absolutely incredible experience in the lab,” Tholen said. “This year, I worked on incorporating dissolved organic matter from a specific type of algae into our substrates. I have some very promising preliminary results and will continue this work during the next academic year. In addition to testing the material properties, we will eventually be testing the effectiveness of the substrates with coral larvae.”

During the summer of 2018 Tholen did an internship abroad in Curaçao, where she prototyped many different microhabitats using a clay extrusion 3D printer to improve settlement and survival rates of the world’s most endangered coral species.

The Clare Boothe Luce Foundation strives to support women undergraduates in STEM disciplines who are leaning towards attending graduate school and continuing research. Scholars in the CBL program participate in the Illinois Scholars Undergraduate (ISUR) program and receive funds for their research projects. At the end of the year, students will give several poster presentations on their progress. Tholen was an ISUR Scholar this past academic year (2019-2020).