Discovering science in all sorts of places

24 August 2009

Generally speaking, it is unusual for ‘economic stimulus jobs’ and ‘underwater robots’ to appear in the same sentence. For a month this summer, though, those two concepts went hand-in-claw at a camp organized by Linn-Benton Community College staff and students. As a part of the Oregon Underwater Volcanic Exploration Team, high school students from all over the state received training in job skills like electrical circuit design, budget-keeping, and geographic information systems as they built and operated research submersibles called ROVs. The high schoolers were nominated by teachers and counselors in their home towns, and spent six days camping on Paulina Lake inside Newberry National Volcanic Monument east of LaPine. Each student designed and built their own ROV, which they got to take home at the end of the week. Money for the project came from a grant by The Oregon Consortium and the Oregon Workforce Alliance, by way of legislative money for job training in Oregon, where high-tech job growth requires constant workforce training.

The staff of OUVET, drawn from LBCC students who had designed and built their own ROV for a competition in Massachusetts earlier this year, were organized by physics professor Greg Mulder. Students describe Mulder as a great classroom teacher who also looks for opportunities to apply science to the outside world, leading field trips to Hawai`i as well as eastern Oregon. Mulder in turn talks about all of the hard work and creativity the students put into designing and building the research ROV sporting lights, a video camera, and a grasping metal claw, all of which have been tested at more than 200 feet deep. At the OUVET camp, staff and students used the research ROV to study the geology at the bottom of the lake, which has features of unknown composition, including a fifty meter tall spire just a few meters across.

All told, students got to design, build, and drive underwater ROVs, study geology, physics, and natural science, and learn about career paths and career skills. Not bad. Pictures and video are up on the OUVET website. I only regret there wasn’t a way to transcribe some of the great campfire conversations about the philosophy and culture of science. As a kind of supplement, I’ll include an excerpt from the outstanding book Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, set in small-town Prince Edward Island in the early 20th century CE, and which Elle was recently rereading, that illustrates the nature of deductive reasoning as neatly as anything I can imagine:

And yet here was Matthew Cuthbert, at half-past three on the afternoon of a busy day, placidly driving over the hollow and up the hill; moreover, he wore a white collar and his best suit of clothes, which was plain proof that he was going out of Avonlea; and he had the buggy and the sorrel mare, which meant he was going a considerable distance. Now, where was Matthew Cuthbert going, and why was he going there?

Mrs. Rachel, before she had fairly closed the door [of the kitchen at Green Gables, the Cuthbert’s home], had taken mental note of everything that was on that table. There were three plates laid, so that Marilla must be expecting some one home with Matthew to tea; but the dishes were every-day dishes and there was only crab apple preserves and one kind of cake, so that the expected company could not be any particular company. Yet what of Matthew’s white collar and the sorrel mare? Mrs. Rachel was getting fairly dizzy with this unusual mystery about quiet, unmysterious Green Gables.


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