Posted by: Jill | September 8, 2012

When is a Marine Biologist like a Geometry Student?

In a few days I leave for a research trip to Palmyra Atoll, a tiny coral reef island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This is my first trip back there since the expedition in 2010 (which I wrote about here). I am travelling with 7 other scientists from Scripps, plus some of our colleagues from other universities.

So, how do I get ready for a research trip like this? Besides stocking up on sunscreen and giving the cats one last snuggle, I had a lot of scientific equipment to pack.

Palmyra is in the middle of nowhere. While it has a very comfortable field station complete with rope swing, ping pong table, and great food, there is no hardware store nearby. We can’t just run out and get any  items that we may have forgotten in the lab. So, over many months, we plan our experiments, make lists of supplies, check everything twice, and pack extras, just in case. However, getting to Palmyra is a lengthy and expensive process, so we also can’t overcompensate by bringing along everything we could possibly need. There is a “sweet spot” of expedition preparedness: bring exactly what you need, no more, no less.

To hit that Sweet Spot of Preparedness, this week I brushed up on my geometry skills to calculate exactly how much (expensive, bulky, heavy) mesh I need to bring for one of my underwater experiments. I made several models incorrectly, then started using computer paper and paper towels instead. My lab bench looked more like a middle school classroom than a powerhouse lab at a research university … but sometimes, being a marine biologist isn’t all that glamorous.

Let’s hope that I calculated correctly!


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