Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lehigh University and Newark Academy

On Thursday I was able to go back out to North Rock, but this time with a new group: 3 Lehigh University students, 7 Newark Academy students, 2 chaperones, and one Ocean Academy Bermudian student.

The Lehigh University and Newark Academy students are here as part of a new collaborative program called “Lehigh in Bermuda.”  Here’s a program description from Lehigh University:

Lehigh in Bermuda is a unique, interdisciplinary program offered
to high school students (rising Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors)
during the summer of 2015 by Lehigh University in conjunction with the
Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) and an energy company
called Eccosolution. Dates: 6/14/2015 - 6/20/2015.
Students will travel to Bermuda and stay at BIOS where they will
receive an in depth education regarding sustainable development and
wave energy. Lehigh students, and BIOS and Eccosolution staff
members will teach the curriculum. Course topics include an
introduction to the island of Bermuda including its culture, ecology and
geology, basic forms of energy (including renewable and alternative),
integration of sustainability with public policy, environmental
economics, and special lectures in wave energy. In addition, activities
include snorkeling in the island’s coral reefs, boat trips and dives to
gather data from wave energy converters, a geological hike through
Bermuda’s unique cave system and hands on learning of the energy
conversion systems.

Learn more here:

On the 45-minute boat trip to North Rock, I made sure to speak to Mike Celente, a Newark Academy alum and current Lehigh University student.  Mike is one of the founders of the inaugural wave energy course for high schoolers.  He explained that a team of Lehigh University researchers received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to conduct research in sustainable wave energy in Bermuda.  Part of the NSF research grant was education and outreach for high school students, so Lehigh teamed with BIOS, Eccosolution, and Newark Academy to educate high school students in wave energy technology.  As part of the collaboration, 4 Lehigh university students and BIOS staff help to teach the high schoolers.  

When not teaching, Mike explained that he helps to build a wave energy converter prototype.  I could tell Mike was captivated by wave energy research by the excitement with which he spoke about the program and his research.  He told me that creating energy using waves is a relatively new technology that has not yet become widely commercialized like wind and solar, but a technology that he feels has a lot of potential for future sustainable energy.

The students were enjoying the wave energy course at BIOS just as much as Mike was enjoying teaching it. BIOS was able to sponsor one Ocean Academy student to participate in the week-long wave energy program alongside the other students.  Ocean Academy ( is a K-12 educational program aimed at bringing ocean science into the classroom, through hands-on learning experiences.  BIOS sponsored CaVon, a Sophomore at Saltus Grammar School in Bermuda, who is interested in engineering and technology. CaVon explained that he had heard about the wave energy course and was excited to be apart of it, “it’s really great.  I love it here.  I love learning about the water.”

Jasper and Charlie, two Newark Academy high school students, both agreed that the trip was “amazing.”  Charlie reflected, “I was in New York 2 days ago and now I’m here… it’s unreal… It’s cool to be out applying what we know, and start bringing change.”  Like CaVon, Jasper also has enjoyed learning about the water, “I’ve always loved the ocean but never really studied it so it’s great to be here.” 

I also spoke to Lizzy, Megan, Elina, and Sanya from Newark Academy about their experiences on the trip.  All four echoed what Jasper and Charlie said, and one commented, “it’s a really good opportunity for high school students.  Usually all the adults have the power so it’s cool to be here.”  The students emphasized how much they loved a recent presentation at BIOS, the 5 Gyres presentation.  One called it “outstanding and really inspiring.”  Read more about the 5 Gyres project and how they are determined to get plastics out of our oceans:

The students also excitedly told me about shipwreck snorkeling, viewing a model of a wave energy converter, and learning about marine animals.  The Newark Academy high schoolers explained how much they enjoyed learning in the classroom and then going out on trips to see exactly what they had been reading about in their textbooks.  Sonya explained, “it’s really cool to go from the classroom to the real world.  Sometimes you just need a hands on experience,” and some other students told me, “it’s been really fun to see all that we are learning in the lecture hall and coming out and seeing what’s actually happening.”  

The two chaperones from Newark Academy, Deb and Kristin, also seemed to be really enjoying their time at BIOS.  Deb Tavares, a science teacher who has been at Newark Academy for 23 years, told me, “I was a marine biology major so I love it (here at BIOS).”  Kristin has been at Newark Academy for 4 years, and works in the Dean of Students Office.  She came on the trip because she has a Master’s in Marine Biology and is an advisor to the student-run Marine Biology Club.  “It’s been really fun to be in the water with the kids, and imparting my wisdom and knowledge… I just love seeing it through their eyes.  Some have never been snorkeling before.”  Kristin explained that she too is learning a lot through participating in the program, “when I was in school, people were just beginning to talk about sustainability.” 

The two really could not say enough good things about the program at BIOS.  They did stress that one of the best parts of the program was the way that it inspired the students to bring back what they had learned to their home community in New Jersey.  In this way, they saw how the benefits of the program expand far beyond the 7 students who were able to attend.  It seems that the students also are aware of the potential of the program to reach other students, “when we return we plan on spreading what we learn back at school.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Princeton at Three Hill Shoals

On Friday afternoon I tagged along with Princeton University students on their research trip to Three Hill Shoals.  Princeton University students are in Bermuda studying marine biology under BIOS researcher, Dr. Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, and Princeton University professor, Dr. James Gould.  Offered through the Princeton Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Marine Biology course is an intensive 4-week field course focused on marine ecology and coral reefs held annually at BIOS during the month of June. 

The students were headed out into the field to study corals and coral reef fish as part of their studies in coral community structure.  Half of the students collected data by snorkeling and the other half used scuba diving.  On the way to the shoals I got a chance to sit down and speak with two students, Lindsay and Sydney.  Both sophomores at Princeton, Lindsay is a biology major while Sydney is an economics major.  They explained to me that both the snorkelers and divers were identifying fish by using transect lines.  This is a sampling method that uses transect lines, in this case measuring tapes, to sample an area for species.  Transect lines are placed in an area, and any plant or animal that comes in contact with the line is then recorded.  In this case, the transect lines were placed on the reefs, and the fish that came in contact with the tape were then recorded.  The diving group also utilized underwater cameras to record video footage of activity at the transect line so the corals could later be identified back at the BIOS lab. 

Once we were within 10 minutes of Three Hill Shoals, the students began to get their gear on.  Experienced snorkelers and divers, everyone knew exactly what they were doing, and put everything on in a very methodological manner.  The divers checked their dive partner’s gear and made sure everything was ready.  By the time we arrived at the site, the wet suits were zipped, oxygen tanks had been strapped to their backs, and the clipboards and transect tapes were in hand. 

As the students jumped in, I was startled that their paper and clipboards went in with them!  I was so impressed to learn that the paper for recording data was waterproof, and that students could write while underwater!  Immediately after getting in the water, the students began to work.  I joined the snorkelers and we swam to a shallow reef.  Paired off into teams, the students carefully laid down their transects by swimming and dropping the transect line along as they went.  I watched as they recorded their data, and then move their transect to another area.  After about 40 minutes of data collection, the students returned to the boat. 

Once their gear was put away, the students were given a few minutes to jump back in for a leisurely swim.  We even got a fun group shot!

Back aboard the boat, I spoke with some of the students about their experiences at the BIOS station.  One told me that participating in the Princeton Marine Biology course at BIOS was “worthwhile and not something you can experience in any other place.”  She explained that before they went out on the trip, they memorized different fish and algae and said it was ”so cool to see them in the ocean.”  She is leaning towards a career in research.  I asked if her time at BIOS had changed her career plans, and she explained that because of the program she is now more interested in research, “I definitely think the research side is very interesting.  I’ve never been in the field before, and I’m really loving it--especially Walsingham Pond, Mangrove Bay, and Spittal Pond.” 

I then chatted with Dr. Jim Gould who is a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a PhD in Animal Behavior and Ethology.  He specializes in animal behavior, specifically bees, and is known for proving that bees communicate through dances.  Gould and his wife have been to Bermuda 12 times, and it is Gould’s 10th time teaching the summer course at BIOS.  Gould explained that he loves the small class size and teaching at BIOS,  “it is the perfect place to study marine biology because of the temperatures and tropical habitat…most courses I teach are big lecture courses so this is a real treat.”  When I asked if some students changed their minds about their career field as a result of coming to BIOS, Gould explained, “yes, several students find their life passion.”  One student who was especially inspired by the course last summer, even came back to be a teacher’s assistant (TA) for the course this summer. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

MARINE ROV Angelfish Challenge Winners

Last week, 7 enthusiastic Clearwater Middle School students and 2 proud teachers got an experience of a lifetime when they headed to North Rock with BIOS to snorkel and operate their winning Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in the ocean.

The students and teachers of Clearwater Middle School were the overall winners of HSBC Explorer’s  2015 MARINE ROV Angelfish Challenge that occurred on March 8th, 2015.  The Challenge brought together 8 local academic bodies with 28 teams in an exciting competition of student-built underwater ROVs.  Over the course of 2 months, students designed, built, and practiced operating their custom ROVs.  All of their hard work was put to the test in the National Sports Centre pool, where students worked in teams to maneuver their custom ROVs through a challenging underwater obstacle course.   Read more about the Mid Atlantic Robotics IN Education (MARINE) program here:

 Here are the final results of the 2015 MARINE ROV Angelfish Challenge:
  • Overall best total score:                                     Clearwater Middle School
  • Phase 1 winner: The interview challenge           Somersfield Academy
  • Phase 2 winner: Navigation ring challenge       Clearwater Middle School  
  • Phase 3 winner: Ring pick up challenge           Bermuda Home School Association 
  • Phase 4 winner: Speed challenge                    Clearwater Middle School
  • Best teamwork:                                                  Warwick Academy
  • Best team spirit:                                                Sandys Middle School

ROVs are an exciting technology used in places where human research would be dangerous or potentially detrimental to human health, or costly.  Used in space, rough terrain, and deep in the water, ROVs have permitted researchers and the public to learn more about places that were previously inaccessible to humans.  The earliest ROV was actually designed in Austria in 1864 by Luppis-Whitehead Automobile, and was a type of torpedo (, but since then, ROVs have certainly come a long way.  Recent technological leaps have allowed ROVs to be used in more places than ever thought possible, and by thousands of researchers around the world.

Here at BIOS, researchers are learning more about the complexity of the ocean with our recent acquisition of undersea gliders.  These gliders, known as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), can be programmed to travel thousands of miles at a time to look for and collect oceanographic data.  Read more here and follow along on our Facebook page for updates on this exciting work.


In an effort to engage the Bermudian community and young students on the island, BIOS developed MARINE, a multiyear underwater design and engineering program.  The program supports and enhances science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, and provides the sort of experiential group learning that traditional academic education tends to overlook.  This experiential learning can be truly transformative, as students hone their critical thinking skills, individual and group problem solving skills, and technological fluency while seeing firsthand how classroom knowledge translates into everyday use. 

The journey begins
At noon, we picked up the ROV Angelfish Challenge winning group and brought them to the BIOS campus here in Ferry Reach.  The students looked full of anticipation as we fitted each of them with a wet suit, mask and snorkel, and fins.  Once everyone was fitted, given a safety briefing, and settled on the boat, we were off—headed to North Rock! 

While the students eagerly looked towards North Rock, I got the chance to speak to one of the two teachers at Clearwater Middle School involved in the 2015 ROV Angelfish Challenge about his experiences leading students in the MARINE program.  McLaren Lowe has been teaching science and technology for about 10 years, and this was his first year participating in a robotics program.  It was clear that the MARINE program had an effect on Mr. Lowe who explained how the program, “rejuvenated my passion in science and technology because I think this is what’s needed in Bermuda—that’s what’s going on across the world and we have to keep up.”

Mr. Lowe emphasized that the practical education of MARINE was vital to the different ways that students learn, “I think that this project is the type of more hands on learning that is needed, especially in public education.  Not all kids learn the same way and I think that we risk losing some students who don’t fit that (traditional) academic mold.”  He explained that students who are losing interest in academics really “do well and shine in this program.”  The second Clearwater Middle School teacher, Katyna Rabain, also emphasized the strength of MARINE in engaging students on the academic periphery, “Some kids who don’t usually excel in academia were into this project, they were focused and dedicated.”

Girls in STEM
It seemed that students on the periphery weren’t the only ones who really shined in the program.  After speaking with Mr. Lowe, I chatted with three of the 13 year old girls who were part of  a 4 person all girls team for Clearwater Middle School.  When I asked if they thought the program should happen again next year, all three girls unanimously exclaimed ‘yes!’  One student told me, “They should definitely do it again.  We learned about the ocean, Bermuda, and reefs.”  The girls explained that they comprised the school’s only all girls team and that people were surprised when they won a challenge at the event, “People don’t think girls can do it.  I think we proved them wrong, because we won the Navigation Challenge.  People were surprised we won because we were girls.” 

When asked if participating in the program changed their ideas of what they wanted to do in their lives, one girl explained, “I always wanted to be a doctor, but now I am thinking about things like architecture and building devices, so I think that they should have more projects like this.”  Another girl explained that she had to choose between a cooking class and a design and technology class, and was glad she chose the latter.  In a world where women in the US comprise only 13% of all engineers and 25% in the field of computer and math sciences (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2014), engaging and inspiring girls to pursue a career in science and technology seems to be yet another positive consequence of MARINE.  

Snorkeling and putting ROVs to the test
Before we knew it, we arrived at North Rock.  An ideal place for snorkeling, North Rock is 7 miles from the east end and a part of the North Shore Coral Reef preserve, and a well known landmark in Bermuda’s waters.  The waters were calm, and I helped the students get into their snorkeling gear on the stern of the boat.  Soon there were splashes and laughs as the students jumped into the ocean. 

I quickly joined them with an underwater camera in hand, and we all swam over to the coral reefs.  The students and teachers loved exploring the reefs and were awed by the different fish that swam by below.  Here are a few pictures of the group:

After an exploration of the reefs, the students were called back to the boat so they could try out their team’s winning ROV in the ocean waters.  The students prepared their ROV and excitedly deployed it in the water, a few staying onboard the boat to control the robot’s movements.  It was so impressive to watch the students control their custom-built ROV, and even more impressive watching the robot underwater.

Fun while learning
Back on board, the students packed up their robots, and dispersed around the boat for the journey home.  I found the boys team on the top deck and had a chance to speak with them about their experience in the MARINE program.  Traje, aged 13, told me “it was a positive opportunity to do it and try ROVs.  I did enjoy my time.  It helped me see different ways of doing things, a different perspective.”  His favorite part of the robotics program was building the ROVs “because we all had to work together, think, and come up with ideas.”

Jacari, aged 12, also enjoyed the program, “It was fun.  It felt good to do something different in school because normally we don’t get to do stuff like that.”

Both Mr. Lowe and Mrs. Rabain also emphasized the benefits of having fun while learning.  Mr. Lowe told me, “I think if you let them have fun, they don’t even know that they are learning.  When they start having fun, they begin to take responsibility for their own education, and that’s what we really want.”  Similarly, Mrs. Rabain explained, “It was like what kids like to do—video gaming—the kids knew what to do already, and just to be able to make something from scratch—see all of the parts and put it together-that was what was great about the project… there was a lot of enthusiasm (for the project).  I said I’ll take one team, but then there was 5! [laughs].  The whole class got involved in it.”

As we neared BIOS, Mrs. Rabain told me about the weekend of the competition.  Rained out, the competition was canceled and moved to the following day.  Instead of leaving, Mrs. Rabain told me how the students stayed out all afternoon in the rain to practice with their robots.

I don’t think there’s a better testament to the love and dedication for this program than that. 

Interested in keeping up with this and other similar projects with Bermudian students?  Like us here:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Your new blog author!
 Good afternoon!  I want to introduce myself to BIOS’s blog readers, as I will be the main author of the entries you will read here this summer.  My name is Lara Funk and I am a recent graduate of Duke University where I received a Bachelor of Arts in ‘Rethinking International Development: Theories, Approaches, and Representations.’    

Spending my childhood in Bermuda, I gained an early appreciation for the environment, specifically coastal and marine ecosystems.  Through my studies at Duke in development and work in eco-tourism development projects throughout Central and South America, I have seen the inseparable link between community livelihood and dependence on the environment.  I am now looking to pursue a career in community-based adaptation and mitigation to climate change such as community-based natural resource management, with a focus on coastal communities.

I am thrilled to be working with BIOS this summer in the Development Office as a Digital Media, Communications, and Education Intern.  I will be interacting with all sorts of exciting BIOS guests such as students, interns, and visiting groups, and will be collecting and documenting their experiences this summer.  The communication materials I collect will be used in social media, newsletters, annual reports, and right here on this blog.  I hope you enjoy what you find here, and I am so looking forward to sharing some of the amazing things that are going on at BIOS this summer!

Make sure you like us on Instagram, ‘BIOSstation,’ as well as on Facebook, ‘BIOS-Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences,’ ‘BIOS Ocean Academy,’ and ‘Marine Science REU Internships at BIOS’, so you don’t miss any news!