Lab Tour

Happy Saturday! Loved reading about those who participated in Run Disney events last weekend! SO jealous since I was supposed to, but had to defer…Anyway, I did do some fun things last weekend like giving a lab tour to a group of students/volunteers that are a part of the Monterey Bay aquarium DSCVR student oceanography club!

One of my ‘jobs’ as a graduate student is to give tours to groups that want to explore our marine lab!  Granted we are a small institution with narrow hallways, but its a beautiful campus with gorgeous views and we do have some ‘cool’ things to share with visitors. Each tour is an hour long where I tell them a little bit about Moss Landing Marine Labs (a graduate research institution), how we have usually 80 ish graduate students at any given time, 9 ‘labs’ (fields of marine science), and that we take all our classes/do research on campus (even though we are associated with the Cal-State System).

My favorite way to ‘break the ice’ with students is to have them pair up and discuss for 30 seconds 1. What do you think a scientist looks like and 2. what kinds of questions would you ask about the ocean. For question #1 I get very stereotypical answers: old man with nerdy glasses, lab coat, bow tie and balding. I then tell them that I am a scientist (and I am dressed in a MLML T and jeans). For this particular scientific field, unless we are working with carcinogenic chemicals etc…we can wear casual clothes. But, like I said, there is a time and place for a lab coat, gloves and protective eye wear.

Some of the ‘flashy’ items we have on display include: (can you guess what they are?)

IMG_3581 IMG_3580 IMG_3576 IMG_3575 <<Far Left: Sperm Whale bottom jaw. Fact: only have teeth on the bottom jaw.

<Near Right: Sperm whale artistic rendering and a ‘real’ dead robust squid (preserved).

<Right: Harbor Seal skeleton. Some of the classes here require students to put a skeleton together. Yep, tough work!

<Right: ‘Ralph’ our very old ‘stuffed’ Stellar Sea Lion, juvenile male. He’s big, but they can get up to 20% larger. (Not sure how he was acquired).

Some of the other ‘cool’ things we have lying around (or standing around), is a water collection device for scientific cruises called a CTD bottle (C=conductivity, T= Temperature, D=Depth). Multiple bottles are rigged together on a device that is thrown overboard to catch water samples at different depths.  There are also instruments (expensive) attached to the bottom so that as it goes deeper into the water column, it tracks how the temperature changes, the salinity (how salty it is), dissolved oxygen ….Once it reaches the bottom, the last bottle is tripped and the device is brought back to the surface.  Then its a mad dash for different scientists to grab water samples to process for chlorophyll (bulk abundance of phytoplankton), nutrients (nitrates/nitrites, phosphats, silica…), bacteria levels… the list goes on. Here is a collage of the device in the lab and on our ship called the Pt. Sur.


For some reason this one lives outisde my lab’s door (Biological Oceanography), so I use it as an opportune moment to discuss what kinds of things are in ocean water.

Have you ever swallowed sea water? Do you know what kinds/how many organisms are in there?

On average (especially coastal waters), in a few drops of water there are a few phytoplankton (photosynthetic algae, NOT plants), 1 million bacteria and 10 million viruses! Aaannd you had a mouthful….So can you imagine how many plankters (general group term) are out in ALL the oceans on the planet!?!?!? A very huge number. So that’s where my lab comes in, Biological Oceanography. My particular lab is  phytoplankton-oriented since my faculty advisor specicialized in that. BUT we have done experiments with bacteria and even the predators of phyotplankton, zooplankton! Ok, check out the SUPER cute puppets from last year’s open house show (*ahem* yes I did write it to bring glory to the underdogs AWESOME creatures). Algal cultures (phytoplankton) on left, Puppet Copepod (zooplankton) & Puppet dinoflagellate (phytoplankton, right).

IMG_2880 IMG_2851

I also show them our algal garden. Don’t judge, we grow algae in flasks rather than plants in pots. Nerdy humor. More nerdy humor coming up, bear with me. Oh and did I mention that when we go on scientific class cruises (get 1 day in class every semester), we like to shrink styrofoam cups when the CTD rosette goes down to 1000m? Yep, we draw with sharpies on the styrofoam cups, put them in a mesh bag, and the come back up super shrunk down! And your drawings are magically amazing. Mine is at the bottom of the picture, with some dinoflagellates drawn on it (cuz I’m a nerd if you haven’t noticed yet). P.S. I got really lucky that mine didn’t get warped, its pretty perfect!

IMG_1443The kids get a kick when I show them my cup! I actually keep it in a swim goggle case to prevent it from getting crushed.

Overall, I have a great time giving tours to school groups and community clubs.  Something about the whole experience from getting kids/adults excited and engaged in the topic of marine science (I like to ask open ended questions to promote disucssion) makes me feel SUPER jazzed! Fortunately spring is the big season for tours and I am one of the only tour guides, so there will be MANY more in my future (had 2 booked yesterday alone).

Thanks for stopping by!

What’s one cool thing you learned/saw in today’s post?



7 thoughts on “Lab Tour

  1. Wow, the facility you are at looks gorgeous! What a fun job/ graduate program, I find marine science so interesting (although I prefer not to think about what is in the mouthful of ocean water I swallowed!).

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