Student Stories

Go Fish!

First there was the two-week stint aboard a 170-ft. research ship, then getting published on Scientific American’s Expeditions blog, and then working in the lab at the Scripps Oceanographic Institution. 

Not bad for one third-year’s summer’s work.

When Julie Huang applied for a Scripps internship last March, she had no idea what was in front of her. Applicants were asked to choose from five research areas. Huang—a double major in geophysical sciences and environmental policy—chose oceanographic optics because it dovetailed with her interest in global climate change. As it turned out, the internship also included a two-week research cruise. Huang had never been on a boat before. “I was a little worried about getting seasick,” she says, but was up for the adventure. In June, she joined 19 scientists on the New Horizons research ship; along with a crew of 12, they left from Guaymas, Mexico, for a an expedition in the Gulf of California.

Huang’s Scripps team was one of several; there were groups from Duke University, the University of Rhode Island; the University of California, Santa Barbara; and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Each team took its own slant on answering how squid use camouflage to avoid predators. Huang’s team studied the qualities of light at various depths to better understand the squid’s environment.

Her duties included helping with optical instruments and with CTD casts. CTD stands for connectivity, temperature, and depth. During a cast, the CTD instrument is lowered into the sea and raised again slowly, all while measuring characteristics like salinity, temperature and density.

The CTD is a big, unwieldy instrument, and each cast took a lot of effort. “You have to deploy that from the J-frame, “ Huang says, sounding like a seasoned seafarer, “with two guys in the aft steering.” 

Huang was also was recruited by William Gilly, the lead scientist of another team, to write about the voyage on Scientific American’s Expeditions blog. “I had some conversations with her on ship;  and she seemed bright and enthusiastic,” said Gilly. Gilly had written for Expeditions himself during previous voyages, but asked Huang to provide a new voice for this trip. “I just asked her to write about life on ship, and about the crew,” Gilly says. “I thought she’d have a point of view that would be interesting to a lot of people.”

Huang took the opportunity and ran with it. For one post, she interviewed all 19 scientists on board over two days, and wove a rich account of the scientific context for the journey.

Her posts also provided a slice of life aboard ship, including some mouth-watering descriptions of her meals: 

Lunch a few days ago was seafood-centric, with breaded mahi mahi, perfectly crunchy deep-fried jumbo shrimp, and clam chowder (or as the first mate Jeff says in his characteristic New Bedford accent, "chowdah"), plus deliciously browned onion rings and crinkle fries.

And there was the crew, “…whom,” she wrote, “I like to refer to in my head as the salty boys.” She recounted how one crewman, “a tanned, muscular guy with a Mohawk,” taught her the right way to wrap a rope around a capstan. After the cruise, Huang spent 10 weeks in a lab at the Scripps La Jolla, Calif., campus. She discovered she prefers fieldwork to lab work. “All the beakers and experiments and stuff, writing proposals, and writing papers, and reviewing papers...It’s a lot more sedentary than I thought it would be.”

Reading a passage in one of her Scientific American posts, it’s not all that surprising that she preferred life at sea:

Already I am quite smitten with life at sea and find myself trying to scheme up ways in which I can return to this type of arrangement, perhaps even on a more permanent basis.