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Ogden Student's Internship Experience Featured in 'Fathom' Documentary on Apple TV+

Maggie Knight, an Ogden senior and LASAL Scholar studying coastal environmental science in the College of the Coast & Environment and marine biology in the College of Science, is a part of a new feature documentary on Apple TV+. 

Fathom follows Dr. Michelle Fournet and Dr. Ellen Garland as they seek to decipher the complex communication of humpback whales and uncover a culture in the oceans older than humankind. The documentary presents a deeply intimate portrait of science in action. 

During filming, Knight interned under Dr. Fournet, who is the director of Sound Science Research Collective — a marine conservation non-profit committed to robust applied research and developing an equitable platform for scientific growth.

“Maggie joined the Sound Science Research team in 2019 and 2020 to conduct what has been our most ambitious project to date; we attempted to understand not just what Alaskan humpback whales were communicating, but why. Understanding call function in a wild-ranging whale is complicated, exhausting, and as adventurous as it sounds. Maggie was not just a bystander of our work — she was integral," said Dr. Fournet. “Without her efforts, we likely wouldn't have been successful. Maggie's enthusiasm for the natural world bolstered us when we faced inevitable challenges, and her willingness to learn when we gave her complicated tasks cannot be overstated.” 

Knight’s career goals are to advocate for species impacted by the Anthropocene’s biodiversity loss and focus on treating animals exposed to chemical and plastic pollution. The internship introduced Knight to the world of mammal rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation and provided her with many of the skills she will need throughout her career. 

The internship also exposed Knight to a number of challenges and gave her a hands-on lesson in the challenges of fieldwork. "To be a successful scientist, you have to be more than intelligent. You also have to be a resilient and competent human,” Knight advises. “During our time in the field, we had to hotwire our solar generator to a battery inverter, troubleshoot equipment problems without the internet, and rework certain parts of our experimental design to accommodate field conditions that were less than stellar.” 

Knight is currently researching environmental toxicology under Dr. Laura Basirico, focusing on the photodegradation of a rice herbicide, benzobicyclon, in fields contaminated with seawater. Using high-performance liquid chromatography, she has found that seawater accelerates the photodegradation of the herbicide caused by trace amounts of metals that naturally occur in the ocean. Knight would like to expand her research to include the effects of microplastics on the herbicide later this year. Since plastics are a relatively new invention, the scientific community does not fully understand how they will impact the environment in the future. Current studies suggest that as plastics float in the ocean, they accumulate persistent organic pollutants (POPs), chemicals that can have serious health consequences for humans and animals.

After graduation, she plans to apply to marine mammal conservation and environmental toxicology master's programs for the fall of 2022. She hopes to begin her career at an institution like the Sausalito Marine Mammal Center which focuses on conducting scientific research, releasing animals into the wild, and educating the public about marine mammal conservation.