Academic Connections: When student becomes teacher

Biosphere 2 Program Alum Laurel Brigham Returns To Facility As A Researcher


When Academic Connections’ participants came through this year’s Biosphere 2 program, they got to hear from researcher Laurel Brigham, an Academic Connections alumna who was so inspired by her experience, it helped shape her career choices and educational path.

“My dad has been a huge part of my education and he encouraged me to attend a summer program to help further my exposure to new and interesting concepts,” said Brigham. “I was immediately drawn to the Biosphere 2 program.”

Biosphere 2 is an Earth systems science research facility located in Oracle, Arizona. It contains five rich and unique biomes including a rainforest, an ocean with a coral reef, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, a fog desert, an agricultural system, a human habitat and below-ground infrastructure. At 3.14 acres, it is the largest closed system ever created.

Brigham spent her time with the program working in the rainforest biome collecting gas samples produced by microbial communities to better understand their response to drought conditions. Today, she is studying ecology at UC San Diego with plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the field. She is currently completing a 10-week stint as a researcher at Biosphere 2, working under the same mentor she had four years ago, while also having the chance to speak with this year’s Academic Connections participants.

“The Academic Connections program was monumental in my decision to pursue environmental science,” said Brigham. “I now work in two ecology labs on campus, which I may not have known I would enjoy had I not attended the program — the idea of being able to ask and answer one's own questions through data collection and analysis absolutely amazed me.”

“It is an absolute joy for us when we hear about how our programs have helped guide young minds onto paths that spark their passion,” said Ed Abeyta, assistant dean of community engagement. “I remember Laurel when she first joined us and I am thrilled to hear about her plans and success — the field is lucky to have her.”

Academic Connections runs a wide range of programming including a week at Biosphere 2. There are also global environmental leadership and sustainability courses available in Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington D.C., as well as a full-range of courses offered in San Diego such as neuroscience, robotics, writing, visual arts, and media.

“My advice is to really throw yourself into these programs and get as much out of it as you can,” said Brigham. “It's only one week long, but it could be one of the best weeks of your life if you let it.”

To learn more about Academic Connections, please visit

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