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Published:September 10th, 2006 05:55 EST
Student Intern Takes the Prize Aboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV

Student Intern Takes the Prize Aboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV

By SOP newswire

Alexa Carey, 17, returned to her senior year at Gold Beach High School in Gold Beach, Oregon, this week with an unusual take on "How I spent my summer vacation." Alexa spent two weeks in August working with scientists and crew aboard the NOAA fisheries research ship ALBATROSS IV. This type of hands-on research experience is rare for students her age; Alexa earned the opportunity as one of three winners of NOAA's "Taking the Pulse of the Planet" award sponsored by the NOAA Office of Education at this year's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May.

For her project "Effectiveness of Strobe Lights, Sound Frequency and Lasers in Reducing Salmon Entrainment through Hydropower Turbines," Alexa won a paid NOAA internship and chose to work aboard ALBATROSS IV through a partnership between the NOAA Office of Education and the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. This is the first time the TAS program has sponsored a student on board a NOAA ship.

Teacher at Sea Karen Meyers, who teaches science to seventh and eighth graders at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, Md., served as Alexa's chaperone during ALBATROSS IV's ecosystem monitoring cruise from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to the Gulf of Maine. Under the supervision of Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso of the NOAA Fisheries Service and ALBATROSS IV Master Stephen Wagner, teacher and student worked 12-hour shifts as the ship moved from station to station, collecting samples and data to monitor changing biological and physical properties that influence the sustainable productivity of living marine resources.

They helped scientists sample zooplankton and fish larvae, measure salinity and other ocean characteristics, test the water column and bottom sediments for pollutants for the Environmental Protection Agency and conduct a genomic survey of microbial life as part of a worldwide survey by the University of Southern California and the J. Craig Venter Institute of Rockville, Md., to better understand how ecosystems function and to discover new genes of ecological importance.

Jerry Prezioso especially enjoys this particular mission each year as the cruise attracts a variety of new people and interesting projects. Working with Alexa was no exception. "Alexa did really well and was a joy to work with," he said. "She really helped us out by sieving mud for the EPA project, hosing down the nets and running the computer program that controls the bongo nets. It was very different—and very refreshing—to have an enthusiastic student her age come along."

In her personal log, Alexa wrote of some of her experiences and conversations with the scientists, crew and NOAA Corps officers aboard the ship, and how she overcame her initial fears and homesickness: "Fortunately, I've been adopted by a whole new family aboard the ship." she wrote. "The crew and scientists aboard are amazing! There's so much to learn, not just from the scientists, but the officers and crew. These men and women have hands-on experience with a huge variety of subjects. I'm getting to learn from top field experts in ways textbooks cannot convey. Additionally, I'm improving my understanding of science, technology, engineering and the Atlantic Ocean. So far, I've heard I'm the youngest to ever sail aboard so I'm attempting to learn quickly and earn my keep."

She added that "It's just a great overall experience, something that no one should pass up."

One of the added benefits of Alexa's experience included seeing a pod of dolphins, which she's never seen near her home in coastal Oregon. "Dolphins...enough said," she wrote. "The most amazing thing is seeing a massive pod of dolphins riding the wake [bow wave] less than 25 feet directly below you."

As part of a team—a far different experience than what she's had in school: "I've become good friends with my new watch-mates; we have a lot of fun together. From after-shift meetings at 3 a.m. to 'Cake Breaks,' Alicea, Wes, Tracy and I have really come together as a team. I've never been too fond of group projects, most of the time because it leads to one person doing all of the work. However, our shift has selected specific job roles that we trade off to ease the constant work load and maximize efficiency."

Going from a "classroom at sea" back into a traditional school environment will no doubt require a bit of adjustment for Alexa. Near the end of the cruise, she wrote, "I'm getting pretty fond of being out here now, and the idea of sitting in a classroom reading from textbooks isn't as appealing. I do miss discussions with my teachers though. Anyway, we're coming on shift now. So I'd best be off to work."

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.