Today’s Female Researchers Inspire Tomorrow’s Women in Science

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In Swim Towards the Light, the Scouts test how light can change the swimming behavior of zooplankton, brainstorming why this may be helpful in the marine environment. (Photo credit: Colleen McCue with Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve)

(Click to enlarge) In Swim Towards the Light, the Scouts test how light can change the swimming behavior of zooplankton, brainstorming why this may be helpful in the marine environment. (Photo credit: Colleen McCue with Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve)

On Saturday, March 29, a group of 15 women scientists led a workshop for the Girl Scouts that was filled with opportunities to look under the microscope, dig down in the mud, and get fishy, all in the name of science. 

The event, hosted by University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) in Port Aransas and the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, introduced marine science as a career to these middle school girls.

Candace Peyton, project manager for the Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies (DROPPS) research consortium, organized the event.

The DROPPS consortium, funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), is studying how oil breaks down into droplets, travels under various conditions, and interacts with the plankton in the marine environment.

One girl declared More than Mudpies to be her favorite “because there were small groups and we could see what was going on and there were tons of interesting creatures that I never knew lived under the mud!” (Photo credit: Colleen McCue)

(Click to enlarge) One girl declared More than Mudpies to be her favorite “because there were small groups and we could see what was going on and there were tons of interesting creatures that I never knew lived under the mud!” (Photo credit: Colleen McCue)

The presenters, all researchers or students at UTMSI, led a variety of interactive marine science presentations. DROPPS researcher Dr. Deana Erdner and outreach coordinator Colbi Gemmell led the activity Planet Plankton.

The girls learned that every drop of seawater contains thousands of organisms called plankton. Plankton, which range in size from microscopic creatures to jellyfish commonly seen floating in Gulf waters, play an important role in the marine food web. The animals in the ocean – and also many on land – depend on the health and well-being of the marine plankton community to survive.

The event had six classes. In addition to Planet Plankton, the girls explored the world of benthic ecology in More than Mudpies and located brittle stars, snails, worms, and many tiny creatures that live in the bottom of the Gulf.

In Swim Towards the Light, the group participated in a demonstration that showed the effects that various colors of light had on the swimming habits of Artemia, a planktonic animal that lives in the water column and uses light cues to navigate.

During Ice Cube in a Greenhouse, students examined climate data covering thousands of years and its effects in the Arctic.

Texas Girl Scouts bring home badges after spending a day learning with women scientists. (Photo credit: Colleen McCue)

(Click to enlarge) Texas Girl Scouts bring home badges after spending a day learning with women scientists. (Photo credit: Colleen McCue)

The girls completed an art project using real fish to help understand how they adapt to their environment in Art Adaptation. Finally, in Night of the Swimming Dead, the Scouts dissected fish to learn about specialized organs that detect movement and vibrations in water.

The hands-on activities were a hit, as one scout excitedly deemed Planet Plankton as her “favorite class” explaining, “I really learned a lot and there was an awesome experiment that really tested us. Dr. Erdner and Colbi make the learning interesting and fun!”

The girls’ parents were very pleased, too, as one expressed afterwards, “What an impressive event! Of the many Girl Scout events, this was the highest quality. Thank you for instructing and mentoring our girls.”

Because of the overwhelming success of the first Women in Marine Science Day, plans are in the works to make it an annual event.

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This research was made possible in part by a Grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Dispersant Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies (DROPPS). The GoMRI is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

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