210923ind science

Mingxi Zhou, an assistant professor at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography,  answers questions about a remotely-operated vehicle during “Science Saturday” held Saturday.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Visitors to the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Campus on Saturday learned more about the denizens of the deep and some of the state-of-the-art tools researchers use to study the world beneath the water’s surface.

The Graduate School of Oceanography’s Science Saturday, a free family-friendly event, gave children the chance for hands-on interaction with shellfish and starfish in the aquarium’s Touch Tank. Visitors also got to talk to marine experts and interact with more than two dozen exhibitors on the campus quad.  

The exhibits included high-tech equipment such as underwater deep sea exploration vehicles, and a display of shark skulls used by the GSO’s McMahon Eco Geochemistry Lab.

“Our lab is interested in who eats what in the ocean, who moves where in the ocean,” Professor Kelton McMahon said. “We use chemistry to answer questions about where animals go and what they do.”

They do that by looking at the bands of “rings” in animal tissue and bone – much like how the age of a tree is determined by counting its rings.

“The age-old adage ‘you are what you eat,’ you pick up chemical cues of your environment in your food and you store it in your tissues,” McMahon said.

Among the objects the lab studies: 3,000 year-old deep sea coral, a dolphin tooth, and the skulls of a great white shark and a hammerhead.

“We do work to look at what sharks are eating out here on the coasts of Rhode Island, where they’re moving,” McMahon said. “Are their populations changing?”

Bones of loggerhead sea turtles stranded off North Carolina tell the team where they’ve been and the age of each turtle. They use the information to help design more effective conservation and management strategies in protected areas.

With its theme of “Ocean Science for the Ocean State,” Science Saturday offered something for everyone.

Interactive ocean science exhibits explored topics including plastics and contaminant pollution in Narragansett Bay, predicting extreme weather events like hurricanes and their effects on the coast, deep ocean exploration and the hidden world of underwater sound.

A stage on the campus quad featured a live ship-to-shore interaction with researchers aboard the exploration vessel Nautilus at port in San Pedro, and an ocean science career workshop.

“I am so excited that visitors have a chance to meet the people who are pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the world’s ocean and coastal waters, and are working to conserve its resources for future generations and a healthy blue economy,” GSO Dean Paula S. Bontempi said.

There were plenty of fun activities for children too, including chemistry magic tricks, hourly volcanic eruption demonstrations and getting up close with a 12-foot-long model of the new research vessel Narragansett Dawn, which is slated to homeport at the Bay Campus starting in 2023.

Guided tours of the campus introduced visitors to the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center, headquarters for the Rhode Island Atomic Energy Commission and the state’s sole nuclear reactor. They learned how a nuclear reactor works, how the safety system works, and got a tour of the operating reactor and control room.

At the Inner Space Center, a team of ocean scientists, engineers, education professionals and video producers showed how they use cutting-edge technology to produce and promote underwater exploration in real time.

The graduate students and professors were more than happy to share their wealth of knowledge with the visitors, especially youngsters interested in marine sciences.

“This is GSO’s 60th anniversary year, and what better way to celebrate than to inspire the next generation of ocean explorers and stewards,” Bontempi said.

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