Maine Students Dive Into Hands-On Ocean Science


Experience with hands-on scientific research is a rare opportunity for most high school students, one that can make a significant difference in their education and future careers. This May, 16 students from around Maine participated in a week-long science workshop at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay. They went on a research cruise, conducted experiments, and learned how to analyze data as part of the 32nd annual Keller BLOOM Program.

“We are excited to show students a side of science that they may not see in school,” said Nicole Poulton, director of the program and a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory. "Students will commonly ask 'what is the correct answer?' However, there isn't necessarily one correct answer in science – it's a process. To answer a question they need to come at it from many different perspectives. Science is about collecting data and learning from it along the way, and that's the experience we try to give them."

The Keller BLOOM program, which stands for Bigelow Laboratory Orders Of Magnitude, provides Maine high school juniors a unique opportunity to spend a week at Bigelow Laboratory, working alongside researchers to learn about the microbiology of the local marine environment. Students are immersed in hands-on research and, through field sampling and laboratory activities, explore what a career as a scientist involves.

“It really changed my view on how I see the job of a scientist,” said Marcus Russano, a student at Lincoln Academy. “It is not just someone who sits in a chair typing or just in a lab all day, but someone who is physically out in the world around us, collecting the physical data and then working hands-on.”

During the program, students learned sampling and data collection methods, and put their skills into practice on a research cruise in the local Sheepscot River estuary. They then worked with researchers using advanced instrumentation to explore the microbiology of what they collected. Students learned about phytoplankton, zooplankton, pigments, nutrients, bacteria and viruses from the local marine environment.

Instructor teaching student with laptop

“I think it’s been really interesting because it puts into perspective just how small the organisms are that the scientists work with,” said Lilly Curtis, from Camden Hills Regional High School. “When we think about oceanography, we think about the ocean – how big it is and that it takes up a lot of the Earth. But the scientists work with such little things. In a drop of water, you can have 10 million bacteria and viruses, which is a crazy number.”

Participants wrapped up with a final presentation for parents, peers, and Bigelow Laboratory staff to talk about the work they did and what they learned about a career in science. One common lesson was that with the right mindset and interests, anyone can be a scientist.

“Talking to the different instructors from all different backgrounds and learning what they do, it's not some very exclusive or impossible field to get into. It just takes passion and curiosity that all of the scientists at Bigelow Laboratory share,” Marcus said. “It takes someone who can be excited to learn and ask questions about the world around them, and then take those questions and go collect samples and figure out where their questions lead them.”

The full list of students in Bigelow Laboratory’s 2021 Keller BLOOM program is:

  • Blake Austin - Brunswick High School
  • Alice Bonnevie Rothrock - South Portland High School
  • Riley Bradway - Marshwood High School
  • Grace Campbell - Boothbay Region High School
  • Lilly Curtis - Camden Hills Regional High School
  • Della Hahn - Boothbay Region High School
  • Claire Holman - Maranacook High School
  • Ashley Mason - Skowhegan High School
  • Delaney Pascuzzo - Morse High School
  • Wyatt Rhodes - Medomak Valley High School
  • Phoebe Richards - Gorham High School
  • Marcus Russano - Lincoln Academy
  • Amber Stokes - John Bapst Memorial High School
  • Claire Walker - Scarborough High School
  • Sadie Woodruff - Camden Hills Regional High School
  • Sadie Yentsch - Kennebunk High School