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Widener Biology Professor Awarded National Science Foundation Grant

biology, fish, David Coughlin, Coughlin, National science foundation, grant, widener, fish swimming, underwater video

Biology Professor David Coughlin received a National Science Foundation grant to support his research on the swimming behavior of fish.

Chester, Pa. – Dr. David Coughlin, a Widener University biology professor, has been awarded a $173,149 National Science Foundation grant. The three-year grant supports Coughlin's research on the swimming behavior of fish, using newly developed underwater video techniques.

"This funding will allow me to upgrade our laboratory facilities as we explore the consequences of fish swimming performance in nature," said Coughlin, the Cynthia H. Sarnoski Science Faculty Fellow. "This work evaluates a new understanding of fish behavior and has implications for determining the energy needs and sustainability of commercially and recreationally important fish species."

The project, done in collaboration with Wellesley College Associate Professor David J. Ellerby, who received his own separate award, is focused on developing and using low-cost, non-invasive video techniques to analyze bluegill sunfish in Lake Waban, Massachusetts. The field research, along with physiological data collected in the Wellesley and Widener laboratories, will lead to better measurements of the fishes' energy costs and muscle properties.

This approach has already revealed that some fish use intermittent propulsion – a swimming strategy where a short series of tail beats are interrupted by gliding. "Ultimately, this will enable us to quantify not just how fish swim in the field, but also the potential advantages, such as a reduction in energy costs, that come with certain swimming modes," Coughlin said.

Improved knowledge of fish swimming behavior and physiology could inform management of fish habitats, commercial and recreational fisheries, and aquaculture facilities, as well as improve the design of structures with which fish interact, such as fish ladders and spillways.

"Another goal of this project is to provide valuable research training and mentorship opportunities for high school and undergraduate students, especially in underrepresented groups interested in the STEM fields," Coughlin added.

The National Science Foundation funds research and education in science and engineering fields through grants and cooperative agreements. The independent federal agency receives approximately 40,000 proposals each year for research, education and training projects, of which approximately 11,000 are funded.

"The College of Arts and Sciences is proud that Dr. Coughlin has secured this prestigious National Science Foundation grant," said College of Arts and Sciences Dean David Leaman. "His research not only impacts the field of biology, it creates great opportunities for Widener students to participate in research that can lay the groundwork for their future careers."

Coughlin is the recipient of numerous National Science Foundation and other grants and has authored or co-authored more than 40 peer-reviewed journal articles, many of which include undergraduate collaborators. He, along with Widener alumna Jacie Shuman, most recently published an article on how climate change affects muscle function in smelt and trout in the Journal of Experimental Zoology.

Coughlin has taught at Widener since 1995, earning the rank of professor in 2006. He received his doctorate in marine biology from Boston University in 1991. In 2017, Coughlin was named the Cynthia H. Sarnoski Science Faculty Fellow, a two-year fellowship that has supported his research with undergraduate students.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises seven schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website,