Grays Harbor College instructor Julie Nelson hopes to use her trip aboard a University of Washington research vessel this summer to inspire her students to a greater love of science and show them where a science-based education can lead.
“I wanted to show students they can go anywhere they want,” she said. “…Get started in research and it opens a lot of doors. I just wanted to say, ‘See how easy it is, just go!’”
She also wants to remind them that they don’t have to start out at a big-name research university to get where they want to go. Nelson started her higher education at a community college, as did a number of individuals along on the trip, she said, including Dr. Deborah Kelly, one of the co-chief scientists on the research vessel.
When Nelson shipped out with around 20 other oceanographers, engineers, educators and 20 undergraduates and graduate students on Dr. John Delaney’s VISIONS’13 ocean research expedition through the University of Washington School of Oceanography, she had already made plans to gain insight into real-world applications for the lab-procedures she has her students do. Aside from working with other project scientists in her area of expertise, chemistry, she said much of her time was spent learning more about the students and professionals who were along for the journey and storing the information so she might bring it back to the classroom.
Too often, students miss out on science, technology, engineering or mathematics related professions because they do not have the vision of where it might take them in their lives, she said. Her plan is to help change mindsets by showcasing the work that was done with the VISIONS’13 trip — and the stories and backgrounds of the individuals that were involved — in the classroom this fall.
During the six-week voyage, she assisted in a project that involved laying 550 miles of telecommunications cable along the ocean floor. When it was done, she was glad to be back on land. “It was a long time to be in a confined environment,” she said, adding they only disembarked from the ship once— in Newport, Ore. The ship was from July 1 through Aug. 4. The quarters were not grand, she said, with dorm-like rooms and four people to a bathroom.
“You didn’t spend a lot of time in your room,” she joked, adding one rarely saw their roommates as everyone was usually off working on different things at varied times.
Aside from separate duties assigned to people in different areas of expertise, crew aboard the trip rotated in four-hour shifts where they would take pictures and record observations of what they saw in the control room from the remotely operated vehicle(ROV), called ROPOS, that went up to 3,000 feet below the 274-foot-long research vessel the Thomas G Thompson. It took three crew members, a pilot, a copilot and a navigator to operate the vehicle, and three to five scientists typically stood watch in the control room to assure goals were accomplished. Nelson said the experience of “logging,” or “recording every detail of every moment,” varied depending on what the mission was.
“It was one of those experiences where it’s very hectic, or very boring,” she said, adding it was very informative to be able to visualize the open floor of the ocean. The majority of the rest of her time was spent evaluating water columns, or the profile of the water from the sea floor to the top, and collecting samples for further testing.
One of the goal’s of the voyage is to lay the cables along the ocean so that everyone who desires to do so may have access to the real-time information it collects in such a dynamic and ever-changing environment, as opposed to how it was done in the past, “taking a measure here, or there.”
“That only works if it is a static environment,” she said.
It is also a new experience for a profession that often lays rights to “data,” said Nelson, and normally only allows that data to be public information once it is a published document.
“Dr. Delaney had this idea back in the 70s. … Before they even had things like remote operated vehicles and drones,” she said. Since 1997, Delaney has directed development of the cabled network in the northeast Pacific Ocean that has evolved into the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Observatories Initiative Regional Scale Nodes program, and has long been and advocate for launching ocean science and educational opportunities using next technologies like the robot-sensor networks they laid out during the six-week trip.
Nelson hopes to impart her new knowledge to her students through video, pictures and the blog she kept while on the trip, but also hopes to make the most of the new connections she made on the trip as well. Nelson works with Aberdeen’s Stevens Elementary School and sometimes has the students participate in the same experiments as her college-aged students as part of their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum. She hopes to connect some of the trip’s scientists, one of which is captain of the UW ROV team, with the elementary school in assisting with creating robotics teams which would have them participate in competitions.
“I want to help them get involved” she said, adding she believes such programs are needed in a depressed economy, where the majority of children are on reduced price lunch programs and where she said some children have not even had the opportunity to visit the beach that is 20 miles away from their homes. “It will help them get excited about science, give them the opportunity to grow and develop self esteem.”
For more information on the trip or the Regional Scale Nodes program, visit www.interactiveoceans.washington.edu