Fun Science FRIEDay – Visualize the Seafloor

Happy FSF! As some of you may know (and for those who don’t), I study the bottom of the ocean, and I do so primarily using innovative technology to image the seafloor (e.g., Wormcam). The interesting work I’ve conducted has resulted in me having the opportunity to present my work to a larger lay audience, in the form of a TEDx presentation.

(Photo Credit: TEDx Newport)

(Photo Credit: TEDx Newport)

I am giving my TED talk with my good buddy and colleague Steve Sabo.  In our talk, “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Worms”, Steve & I will illustrate the significance of the ocean floor through advancements in underwater camera technology and data visualization, making complex science more accessible for everyone.

Our TED photo (Photo credit: Meg Heriot)

Our TED photo (Photo credit: Meg Heriot)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Open-Acess Science for the Masses

The oceans belong to all of us. With this simple statement in mind, the Oceanography for Everyone (OfE) project was launched with the goal of making ocean science more accessible. One of the biggest hurdles in conducting ocean science is instrumentation costs, and 4 years ago the OfE team began trying to make one of the most basic ocean science tools, the CTD (a water quality sensor that measures Conductivity-Temperature-Depth), cheaper… much, much cheaper!

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Introducing Field School: A Resource for Marine Science Research and Education

julia_staffJulia Wester  is the Director of Program Development for Field School. She received her PhD from the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami in 2016. Her dissertation studied the psychology of decision making about the environment, specifically with regard to limited water resources. She also received a Msc with Distinction in Biodiversity Conservation and Management from Oxford University and worked as a Legislative Aide in South Florida, focusing on environmental policy. She has consulted with nonprofit programs to evaluate their educational programs and assisted with training staff to conduct effective public outreach.

Field School logoThe folks at Southern Fried Science, as part of their commitment to research and education, have generously given us this platform to talk about our educational start-up, Field School. (Thanks, SFS!). They’ve also been kind enough to get excited about working with us to develop and test new research techniques, study awesome animals and ecosystems, and improve marine science field education—so stay tuned for some of those upcoming collaborations!

What is field school? 

Field School is a hybrid company on a mission to support field research in marine and environmental science, and create high-quality educational and training opportunities for students and the public. We offer hands-on, research focused courses on a variety of topics, from corals to sharks, on our 55’ custom live-aboard research vessel.

Field School offers researchers and students opportunities to engage with and study tropical marine ecosystems. Photo credit: Kristine Stump

Field School offers researchers and students opportunities to engage with and study tropical marine ecosystems. Photo credit: Kristine Stump

Part of what makes Field School special is the team we’ve brought together. Our captain and crew all have doctoral and/or masters degrees in marine or environmental science, have authored numerous scientific publications, and have a combined 25 years of experience in field education and outreach. We have developed short- and long-term training and mentoring opportunities for students, teach highly reviewed and award-winning university courses, and work with partner non-profits to create outreach programs for the public. We collaborate closely with our scientific advisory board and partner universities to develop the conservation and research projects our students work on, ensuring their time in our courses is professionally relevant and meaningful.

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Big ideas and little robots: Using the OpenROV in interdisciplinary STEM projects

portrait-joeyJoey Maier is a biology professor at Polk State College where he uses every possible opportunity to encourage his students to spend time in the water, play with technology, and do #CitizenScience. As an undergraduate, he did a stint as an intern for Mark Xitco and John Gory during their dolphin language experiments.  He then spent the years of his M.Sc. at the University of Oklahoma thawing out and playing with bits of decaying dolphin.  After discovering that computers lack that rotten-blubber smell, Joey became a UNIX sysadmin and later a CISSP security analyst.  

While his pirate game is weak, he is often seen with a miniature macaw on his shoulder. His spare time is spent SCUBA diving and trying to hang out with people who have submersibles.  You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.


There’s a Klingon bird of prey hanging from the ceiling in my office.

I may teach biology, but at heart I’m a sci-fi nerd.  Naturally, I’m interested in futurism, robots, lasers and all manner of techy paraphernalia.  I’d been watching the OpenROV project for a while, but hadn’t gotten one yet.  They were obviously awesome little machines that gave me a serious case of gadget envy, and I knew that some of our students would love to pilot an ROV.  I needed a much better reason than that, however, to justify getting one.  There’s no line item in our budget for, “Wow, that’s cool!” and I was fairly certain that the college administration would tend to favor lower cost and more familiar forms of student engagement

Photo courtesy Joey Maier.

Photo courtesy Joey Maier.

This tweet changed everything.  When I found out that Andrew had designed a mini-Niskin bottle, the wheels in my head started turning.  Assembling an OpenROV would, naturally, be a very STEM-oriented project.  The times our students piloted the ROV could become water sampling field trips, and the kids could analyze their samples back at school as a laboratory activity. If students recorded the process, they could make a short film. I mulled over the possibilities and bounced ideas off of my dive buddies during the hours we spent traveling to and from the coast. Read More

Ocean Kickstarter of the Month: The OpenROV Trident

The future of ocean exploration is here.

OpenROV Trident – An Underwater Drone for Everyone by OpenROV

I’ve been watching, exploring, and working with the folks at OpenROV since their last Kickstarter, way back in 2012. Today they announce the launch of Trident, the next generation underwater vehicle, and one of the most capable microROVs that I’ve ever seen. I had the rare pleasure to join them in Lake Tahoe this May to test fly one of the earliest prototypes, and it surpassed all of my expectations.

You don’t need to hear me sing the praises of one of the most important emergent technologies in marine science and conservation. The rise of affordable, capable, portable underwater robots will fundamentally change the way we think about exploring the ocean and monitoring ocean health.

Onward to the Ocean Kickstarter criteria!

1. Is it sound, reasonable, and informed by science? You bet. OpenROV have been building underwater vehicles for upwards of four years. I use their robots in my research and education programs. The first peer-reviewed publication using OpenROV as a research platform will be coming out at the end of the month.  Read More

Did Wyoming really just outlaw citizen science?

I first heard about the new Wyoming law #SF0012 through the Slate article summarizing it as a criminalization of citizen science. There’s a real danger that it could be interpreted and implemented that way, but let’s try and give Wyoming the benefit of the doubt for a minute. The text of the law only requires that scientists (citizen or otherwise) acquire written or verbal permission from landowners for collecting data on their land. It goes on to define what “data” means, including photographs in a fairly wide definition, and “collecting” as taking data with the intention of turning it over to a state or federal agency. It also defines trespassing and outlines the consequences for those who fail to receive permission. In short: the data collector could go to jail and their data will not be admissible in legal or policy proceedings.

At the core, the law re-hashes a fairly common definition of trespassing. The key part of the law that’s new is that the data won’t be admissible in court and the act of turning them over to federal or state agencies will make you an outlaw. Part of me thinks that data collectors, including citizen science groups, should be asking permission to go on someone’s land. This is both to keep ethics at the forefront of our scientific endeavors and for the personal safety of scientists (ranchers are known to carry shotguns, after all). Read More

Set research free with IGoR!

Dr. Mickey von Dassow is a biologist who studies how biomechanics affects development-environment interactions. He received his PhD in Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, studying how fluid flow affects colonial marine animals. As a postdoc (U. of Pittsburgh), he studied the mechanics of tissue movements that shape amphibian embryos. Currently he is a guest research scientist at the Duke Marine Lab, and works primarily on sea urchin embryos.


"IGoR! Fetch me a protocol!" Provided by Michelangelo Von Dassow.

“IGoR! Fetch me a protocol!” Provided by Michelangelo von Dassow.

Can everyone do scientific research? I hope to convince you the answer is “yes.” I’m trying to develop an online platform (http://IGoR.wikidot.com) to help amateur scientists and other science enthusiasts do their own scientific research, while at the same time helping experienced scientists tap into the skills and creativity of a broader community. I hope you’ll love the idea and want to help me spark IGoR to life*.

Currently, the vast majority of scientific research is done by professionals supported by big institutions, such as universities, government labs, or corporations. It’s difficult for even a trained and experienced scientist to find the resources and time to do research without this backing. There are pockets of science where amateurs frequently make substantial contributions (e.g. amateur astronomy and taxonomy). However, it wasn’t that long ago that the majority of science was done by people – such as Darwin and Wallace – who were outside academia. In fact, the great intellectual revolutions that created modern science were not started by trained scientists: there were no trained scientists at the time!

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The next era of ocean exploration begins in Papua New Guinea

An OpenROV at Lake Merrit.

An OpenROV at Lake Merritt. Photo by author.

In 1946, Jacques Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan released the Aqualung, forever changing the way humans interact with the oceans. No longer tethered to the surface, entombed in thick, restrictive helmets, we could dive deeper, stay down longer, and explore the dark places snorkelers and free divers feared to fin. The Aqualung opened up the ocean to an entirely new cohort. Ocean exploration, once the domain of well-resourced scientists, career explorers, and the wealthy elite, was now within the reach of the global middle class.

Buoyed by the Aqualung, Marine Science exploded. Marine life could be studied alive and in situ. Behavior could be observed rather than inferred from the stressed and shredded samples of a trawl. The ranks of marine biologists, oceanographers, and explores swelled to numbers that began to gradually approach the relative significance of the ocean to the living world.

We’re just getting started.

Marine science is on the brink of the greatest sea change since JYC and Gagnan introduced the Aqualung to the world.

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Nerds for Nature harnesses citizen scientists to monitor environmental change

[Note, this is a press release for an ongoing project of which Amy and myself are involved.]

n4nMonday, May 26, 2014 — In September 2013, a large wildfire, ignited by careless target shooters, blazed across Mt. Diablo, leaving 3,100 acres of state park scorched. Wildfires are an important component of chaparral ecosystems, clearing the way for younger growth to take hold, but monitoring recovery after wildfires is an intensive prospect for over-committed park staff. Enter the Nerds for Nature and their change monitoring brackets.

Inspired by monitorchange.org (created by Sam Droege of the U.S. Geological Survey), Nerds for Nature combined low-tech angle brackets with high-tech smart phones to allow hikers to help monitor the ongoing fire recovery. Park visitors are invited to take pictures at predefined locations, aligning their phones against a simple angle bracket that ensures images will center on the same area. Photos are then uploaded to one of several social media services, where a program scrapes the publicly available images and compiles a time lapse video.

morganfire02

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Help track fire restoration with this innovative Citizen Science project!

Last year, over 3,000 acres of Mount Diablo State Park were scorched by the Morgan Wildfire. The fire, likely started by target shooters, caused 75 homes to be evacuated and left the park closed to visitors for weeks. The park is now open and the massive fire scar is beginning to heal.

Nerds for Nature, URS, and the Mount Diablo Park service have teamed up to promote wildfire education and harness the enthusiasm of the park’s visitors to monitor fire recovery. Throughout the park, a series of signs will inform hikers about the Morgan Fire and direct them to a fixed bracket where they can line of their smart phone, take a picture, and tweet it to the MorganFire hashtags (#morganfire01, #morganfire02, #morganfire03, #morganfire04, depending on location). As the area recovers, those picture will be pooled to create a long-term documentation of change.

This is an incredibly innovative use of citizen scientist and I’d love to see more recovery projects adopt this model. The next time your hiking in Mount Diablo, keep an eye for the Fire Brackets. Amy and I were out there this weekend, contributing to wildfire recovery monitoring.

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