Monday, March 06, 2006

Science is better under the sea!

Today I decided to join in on The Marcel Naseer Ali Memorial Lecture in Aquatic Biology - a Seminar series that is jointly supported by the Axelrod Institute of Ichthyology and College of Biological Science at the University of Guelph.

Generally, I decide on whether or not to go to such seminars using a 3-step process:
1. Are refreshments provided?
2. What time is it? Do I have to stay late?
3. Who else is going?

This time I had the best support from (3), since some other folks from my lab were interested. Also (2) was lunch time and (1) was YES, so I was sold. Also, I later decided to check what the seminar was about, and it was entitled "Deep Sea Explorations: Vents, Volcanoes and VENUS".

So we set off to see the talk by Dr. Verena Tunnicliffe, Canada Research Chair in Deep Ocean Research, Professor & Director of the VENUS Project, from University of Victoria in British Columbia. Her videos and anecdotes were really amazing! Apparently Canada built and began research with a remote-controlled submersible before any other country, although other nations use the technology now. She spoke of navigating the sub into the open ...ummm... spout (my word not hers) of an undersea volcano, and watching the billowing clouds emerging from within. We watched the video of the escaping sulfur gas - apparently it caused quite a problem when they realized that all the sulfur was reacting to form sulfuric acid, which began to eat away at the surface of the sub and then etched all the lenses on the camera! Later, exploring another vent, molten sulfur was splashed on the sub during a mild eruption, and later again there was another acid bath due to the release of carbonic acid! The sub puts up with a lot of abuse!

Keep in mind I suffer from scientific jealously every time that anyone else manages to publish anything, but that she had also gotten to dive to the sea floor and operate ROBOTS - I am distraught with envy!

Luckily it turns out that we can all take part in such adventures through the new VENUS project, which offers a web-enabled and operated underwater station. It's available free of charge to the public, to check out what is happening on the sea floor, and also to scientists who can contact the VENUS group and get any equipment they like wired up to the giant "hub" at their two sites near Vancouver. It's a great idea for Universities like Guelph to take part in, since Marine Biology is offered at many land-locked institutions. Equipment like cameras can then be operated using the internet and data delivered back to researchers in the same way.

Now I just need to design a project for our Pseudomonas underwater!
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