Jill McDermott, director of the new Lehigh Oceans Research Center, addresses attendees Jan. 29 at the center's inaugural research symposium in the Health, Science and Technology Building. The Oceans Research Center will focus on marine science and hopes to establish Lehigh as a leader in the field. (Courtesy of Christine Kreschollek)

Ocean research center explores environmental questions


The Lehigh Ocean Research Center displayed research about the Earth’s oceans by students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty during its inaugural symposium in January. 

The College of Arts and Sciences launched the center in 2024, bringing together an association to explore pressing questions in marine sciences.

Jill McDermott, a professor in the department of Earth and environmental sciences and director of Lehigh Ocean Research Center, was contacted by the CAS dean’s office to create a new research opportunity at Lehigh.

The goal was to establish a new research center and they decided to focus on ocean sciences.

“We are looking to strengthen the reputation of Lehigh as a hub of expertise in ocean research and we feel that investment in the ocean is critical, timely and forward looking,” McDermott said. “That is because there’s a huge global need right now to study the oceans.” 

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, created in 2015, listed as their 14th goal the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine sciences. According to the United Nations, this goal was created due to the oceans’ part in supporting the planet’s largest ecosystem and regulating global climate systems. 

McDermott said the center facilitates opportunities for collaborative research between groups. 

The Ocean Research Center examines topics such as how marine ecosystems are managed and what ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change. McDermott said they are also interested in issues of societal relevance, like the restoration of coral ecosystems.

There is also a group working to define how marine microbes are mediating the carbon system and the climate of the planet.

McDermott said the research center is working toward establishing small grant opportunities for graduate students and postdocs who work within the Lehigh Ocean Center so they can combine cross-disciplinary ideas.

Henry Price, ‘23, is a doctoral student at Lehigh taking part in the research. He said there are opportunities to work with other colleges within Lehigh’s campus.

“There is a wide range of research and there is even some collaboration within some of the engineering departments on things like underwater vehicles,” Price said.

McDermott said the research center is looking to increase Lehigh’s visibility and its reputation outside of the university so it can attract more opportunities to conduct integrated science with other communities.

“We want to create an academically stimulating environment for students and early career scientists that we work with,” McDermott said.

Thus far, the research center has been making big efforts in both research and fundraising.

McDermott said the faculty has raised over $10 million, but hopes to diversify their funding.

She said the research center currently receives funding from the National Academy of Sciences, the Sloan Foundation, Schmidt Ocean Institute and other government agencies.  

This summer, the research center is sponsoring an internal summer workshop called Cnicofest.

McDermott said Cnicofest is a group of researchers who all study a class of marine animals called cnidarians.

Jada Siverand, a doctoral student at Lehigh, said the research center is looking to expand their reach in the near future.

“We have really big plans coming up to both involve everyone in the center as well as to give more exposure to the surrounding community,” Siverand said. “We want people to learn more about oceans and all the different ways you can apply science research to oceans.”

The center currently has ongoing fieldwork and publications in deep-sea biology, geochemistry, microbial ecology and cnidarian biology. Individuals who are interested in joining can visit their website

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