Neah Baechler's Blog

Thursday, August 21, 2014
Neah Baechler

21 Aug 2014

Gravity. It escapes conscious thought most of the time and when it does draw the minds eye its generally in the form of a ludicrous man sitting under an apple tree, apple in hand, a dotted line and unsavory expression connecting him to the branch above. We learn in school that g= 9.81m/s^2 and we encounter it when we fall down and scrape a knee, walk up a large hill or stand too close to a precipice. Newton’s three laws provide us with a deeper understanding of gravity and motion, but on land it’s an easy thing to forget about. The disconnect between learning about something in school and experiencing it in daily life is common, until I spent time at sea I was able to go home and forget about gravity’s presence in my life because of it’s constant presence and my habitation of solid land. In a boat things work differently, not to get too deep into fluid dynamics but because fluids have a looser molecular structure and are free flowing they change shape with the forces that move through them. This means that wind, density change, and many other forces are constantly acting on the ocean. With every wave the boat tips, with every change of direction the effect of these waves is felt in a different way. When the bow, or front of the ship is pointed into the waves the rise and fall is gentle, when the boat is turning that adds even more force, meaning the motion is forward and backward, up and down and also side-to-side.

Never have I been so well acquainted with gravity. I feel it every time we move from wave crest to trough, trough to crest. When a wave takes the boat from the side and my center of gravity unexpectedly pitches to the right or left, I remember that my friend gravity is always in action. The fact is 70% of the Earth’s surface is in constant motion. This seems like a large statement but it becomes obvious at sea that it literally never stops. Ever.

These light bulb moments when classroom lessons and real life experiences suddenly connect are invaluable. I realize that when learning, for example, a foreign language, an immersion experience is a trip abroad during which learning becomes a survival skill. An immersion in science is being alive. In today’s day and age it’s easy to take for granted what forces dictate our lives, but the beauty of science is that it challenges the very fiber of our everyday, illuminating the familiar in new and exciting ways. Experiencing gravity at sea for me is like a sign at the crossroads of familiar and unknown. Gravity had been so constant in my life it had become invisible, but when I came to sea my environment changed and the invisible became obvious. Similarly, when we immerse our senses in new environments as the OOI is doing with the sea floor, we learn unexpected things. I find myself giddy with anticipation knowing that once we’re able to turn the observatory on, we wait for the light bulbs to illuminate and the shiny red apples to start falling on the right heads.  

16 Aug 2014

On a 275-foot research vessel manned with 36 science party members and a 23-person crew of well-trained and highly focused individuals you would think it would be easy to feel in the way. The scale of the research being done here aboard the Thompson is no less than massive, and its safe to say it would be easy for an unaccredited, unpaid, undergrad to get lost in the sea of never ending science.

Within the madness that is 24 hour-research, we are provided not only with our three square meals, beds and a work-space located in the thick of the main science lab, but we receive daily visits and prompt responses from the Chief Scientist John Delaney. The 6 students on board are given the same priority as any other scientific party member in the eyes of indispensable mentors and helping hands that serve as co-chief scientists, videographers, ROPOS team members, deck hands and engineers. The use of the word “other” in the prior sentence is particularly critical, in many cases students would be treated as an entirely separate entity and nuisance as we need educating, leading and management quite literally at every turn (we get lost a lot). Aboard the Thompson however we receive equal treatment, we are trusted with leadership positions, given opportunities to participate and encouraged to ask a decidedly annoying amount of questions.

Students are even given one of the most important and valued opportunities in my eyes, the possibility of returning and continuing work aboard the Thompson as assistants or to continue their own research projects. Essentially for the small price of a student project aimed at building the Interactive Oceans website, the audience to the OOI or contributing to ship research, students are given one of the most productive and invaluable educational environments. This I find to be truly altruistic.

While the educational aspect of the program is important to build its future, it is obvious to me that within the VISIONS cruise the true driving force behind scientific research is brought to light. A quest for truth is part of this motivation, but my interpretation of that quest is something that tugs a little more at the heartstrings. When scientists embark to find the answers to their burning philosophical questions it is not just to satiate their own personal curiosities, but more often than not to build something larger than themselves that will benefit the world. The OOI does just that, and the selflessness I have encountered aboard the Thompson reminds me that there are still institutions in the world that are not only designed to be non-profit but that do not even seem to comprehend the meaning of financial profit. The success of these institutions is measured instead in knowledge, teamwork, dedication and an increased quality of life for all at the end of the day. This attitude reminds me why I strive every day to remain a part of the scientific community.  


14 Aug 2014 

Aboard the Thompson life is like a hodge-podge of scientific equipment, beautiful video capability and acoustic data, able-bodied hands, and the most eccentric, goofy and yet insanely intelligent people. In the maze of steel doorways, ladders, slicked decks and shipping crates you find yourself frequently lost, confused and fully capable of turning a corner and stubbing your toe on five hundred million dollars of part science, part Optimus Prime. Now I’ve always been a proponent for living life to the fullest but I find aboard this boat phrases like YOLO (Carpe Diem for those with class and a “more mature” world view) take on an entirely new meaning. People often use this twenty-first century cliché to rationalize their more idiotic choices, it’s written off as the invention of rapper Drizzy Drake; in short YOLO has a rather poor reputation. The history of YOLO is however quite well intentioned, Ray Charles coined the term in his “let The Good Times Roll” before Aubrey Graham was old enough to look young enough to appear on Degrassi, and in my opinion it does not provide any logical reason for making poor decisions. If you only live once, and to quote another cliché, that “life is short” it seems each moment increases in value and should truly be cherished. Aboard the Thompson, crew and scientists are working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to create an undersea laboratory that could potentially change all of our lives for the better. There are dedicated individuals awake and working for 17 hours on end every single day and seemingly ever present, and there are those hidden away aboard the ship keeping the engine running, the water fresh (quite literally removing the sea from seawater) and cooking the meals that keep us all going. Life on the Thompson reinforces how valuable each passing moment is and how much can be done at the drop of a hat. As a student here for a short time I only hope I can contribute one small brick to the massive wall of oceanic research being built and learn as much from these talented people as possible. Aboard the Thompson it is starkly clear that as opposed to screaming YOLO when jumping off of tall objects into frigid water, or hitchhiking across Romania, our youth should be screaming it as they submit their college applications or start young and intuitive software companies that will change the world. The next ten days aboard the Thompson I will wake-up (not necessarily in the morning) with only one thought in my head. Thanks Ray Charles.