Seventh grade science students at Richmond Middle School spent part of November on a ‘virtual expedition,’ when they participated in “Extreme 2008: A Deep-Sea Adventure.” The marine science program was developed by the University of Delaware to learn more about one of the most extreme environments on the planet: hydrothermal vents.
RMS science teacher William Dooley prepared his students to be a part of the expedition using the eMINTS/METS Grant computers in his classroom.
“All of the seventh graders were present when we called the Research Vessel Atlantis and the Research Submersible Alvin,” said Dooley. “Alvin was at the bottom of the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) conducting research on viruses and bacteria near the Hydrothermal Vents in that area.”
The 274-ft research vessel Atlantis was on a 21-day mission to explore the vent sites in the Pacific Ocean. Once at the dive site, hundreds of miles from shore, two of the scientists and a pilot climbed into the submersible Alvin to descend over a mile to the vents.
It was Nov. 24, when the “Phone Call to the Deep” took place. Meeting in the library, students Catherine Pence and Jordan Beck were to make the calls, as all of the seventh graders gathered.
“The phone call to the deep” was a voice only. Think of the call from here going to ATT for a conference with the other schools, and hooked into the satellite phone to get to the Atlantis ship,” Dooley explained. “From there they send a ‘voice’ sound down to the Alvin using a huge speaker and microphone on Alvin. Alvin has a speaker sending their voice back to Atlantis where the voice is picked up by a microphone and then into the satellite/radio phone system.
“The Middle School science program also went along on this voyage in 2004, and many students will remember their experiences,” said Dooley. “I am excited that we are able to be a part of the program again, after several years waiting for the expedition to happen.”
In order to help prepare his students for what they would be experiencing, Dooley showed a ‘silent video’ of an earlier Alvin journey. Subtitles were added so the students would know what was happening. They also spent time checking out the interactive Web site, www.expeditions.udel.edu/extreme08, for information, photos, videos and interviews. Armed with this background, the students were able to participate, explore, and understand how scientists can study the extreme environments of the earth using their various instruments.
Two students’ names were drawn to make the connection with the vessels. Catherine called Alvin. Jordan called Atlantis.
“I was really nervous. I thought I’d mess up and they wouldn’t be able to hear me,” said Catherine. “The sea floor is really cool. I learned about new species of animals. There is a Colonial Dandelion – a big, puffball. It’s yellow, like a dandelion.”
The connection was clear and the students were able to hear questions from each school participating in the call. Catherine said they also learned that it took the Alvin an hour to descend the mile to the sea floor and the three-man sub stays for around five hours as they study and perform various experiments.
“This is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for our students. I am very pleased to have been able to arrange for this experience,” said Dooley. “It was a wonderful way for our students to talk with real research scientists while they are actually working.”
More than 20,000 students from over 350 schools in the United States, Aruba, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Great Britain, and New Zealand participated. The students were able to write to the research team, propose experiments to be conducted at sea, and participate in a virtual science fair.
Fifty schools were selected to participate in the conference call with scientists working in the submersible Alvin on the seafloor. RMS was selected as one of the schools to participate directly by calling and speaking with the scientists as they worked on Nov. 24.
Extreme 2008 was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The program is the sixth in the University of Delaware’s popular “Extreme” series, which has won state and national awards for public outreach and education. The research team includes scientists and graduate students from six universities and the J Craig Venter Institute.
Photo: RMS seventh-graders talk with scientist on the ocean floor to learn more about hydrothermal vents.
Photo by William Dooley