Ocean on Tap Brings Fun Science to Boothbay Community


Since February, staff and researchers at Bigelow Laboratory have organized a monthly, free speaker series to share some of the more fun and quirky aspects of ocean science in a casual setting. Hosted at Footbridge Brewery in Boothbay Harbor and held monthly on Thursdays, the events enable researchers to share their complex science with a broad audience and allow attendees to learn about the unseen ocean ecosystem around them. Originally designed as a fun, community-building event for year-round residents on the peninsula, Ocean on Tap is officially continuing through the summer. The next talk is scheduled for July 18.

“As the pandemic showed us, the scientific community’s ability to communicate science with the public is crucial so we wanted to create opportunities for local scientists, especially early in their career, to develop that skill,” said Alaina Weinheimer, a postdoctoral scientist at Bigelow Laboratory and one of the event organizers. “Academia is often seen as this ‘ivory tower,’ and we wanted this speaker series to help break down those perceived barriers.”

Weinheimer had attended similar “Science on Tap” events at previous institutions and found it a fun way to learn new things and connect with people outside of the narrow confines of her field. Given the number of institutions in the area doing exciting environmental work, an ocean-centric version for Boothbay Harbor seemed like a perfect fit. It was meant to complement the institute’s annual Café Sci series of talks, which takes place each summer — beginning on July 16 this year.

For young scientists, the organizing team thought this would be a valuable opportunity to learn important science communication skills in a more casual setting than Café Sci, which generally features scientists further along in their career. It’s also encouraged them to think about their work in new ways and explore broader areas of interest beyond their day-to-day work.

Postdoctoral Scientist Sarah Douglas presenting to a full house at Oceans on Tap

“Presenting in a more informal format, in the casual setting of the brewery, is great practice for us as scientists interested in communications and teaching,” said Sarah Douglas, a Bigelow Laboratory postdoctoral scientist who presented in March. “Sometimes as a researcher, I feel pigeonholed into only ever talking about my specific area, so this was also a fun chance to share some new things I care about.”

For community members, Ocean on Tap has increased the accessibility of cutting-edge research happening in the area around important ocean issues that are so central to daily life in coastal Maine. It’s also been a great opportunity for community building and gathering, especially during the offseason when social events are more limited. The reception to Ocean on Tap, the organizers say, has been incredibly positive with a full house of enthusiastic and eager guests every month.

The series kicked off in February with a discussion of the fascinating — and sometimes creepy — world of pathogens with Postdoctoral Scientist Reyn Yoshioka discussing the important role of disease in the marine environment. In March, Douglas shared the surprising diversity of life in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and her experience participating in citizen science projects to monitor microplastics. In April, Yasmina Shah Esmaeili, a postdoctoral scientist, and Shane Farrell, a University of Maine PhD student based at Bigelow Laboratory, talked about how Maine’s critical kelp forests are changing and the scientific diving tools they use to study them. In April, Kerry Dykens and Kristin Heidenreich, two curators with the National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota at Bigelow Laboratory, highlighted the diversity, uses, and potential of marine algae, sharing with guests some of the interesting species in the NCMA collection. Earlier this month, local author Ret Talbot and scientific illustrator Karen Talbot spoke about the book, “Chasing Shadows; Unraveling the Mysteries of the Great White Shark,” discussing the success story of white shark conservation in the Gulf of Maine.

The series continues next month on July 18. Postdoctoral scientist Rebekah Shunmugapandi will be talking about “Unveiling Ocean Colors from Space.” Talks take place at 6 p.m. at Footbridge Brewery in Boothbay Harbor.

Photo 1: Postdoctoral Scientist Yasmina Shah Esmaeili and UMaine PhD Student Shane Farrell talk about the challenges of surveying kelp forests in the Gulf of Maine while Postdoctoral Scientist Reyn Yoshioka models scientific diving equipment at the April Ocean on Tap event.

Photo 2: Postdoctoral Scientist Sarah Douglas presents on the diversity of life in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch at the March Ocean on Tap event.