Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Science and (low) Technology

[Originally posted to MBA Student Oceanography Club (SOC)]
In our December meeting, we talked a lot about the use of technology in research, and while it is true that many scientists are always using the greatest advancements in technology and engineering, some of us use simpler tools.  I thought I would share the items I used for one of my experiments to contrast with the submersibles, satellite sensors, and DNA sequencers used by many of my colleagues.

Tools I used to test how corals grow in different environments*:
Mask, snorkel and fins to work underwater, where I collected coral fragments and deployed blocks.
Cement blocks to anchor corals in specific places on the reef.
Glue to attach corals to the cement blocks (OK, so I actually used really expensive glue that hardens underwater).
Ziplock bags to bring coral fragments to the lab where I attached them to blocks and measured them.
Cooler to take blocks with corals attached out to the field at the beginning of the experiment.
Ruler to measure the length of the coral fragments at the beginning and end of the experiment.

* You can learn more about what my research was about at: http://www.gsbergsma.com/research-interests/dissertation

I did fly in a plane to get to my study site, moved everything around in a small boat and used a GPS so that I could locate the corals that I put out on the reef, so my experiment did rely on some fancy technology.  However, creativity and what you have on hand are often the only limits to what you can use for science.  In the past I’ve used lots of household items in my research, including kitchen pot scrubbing pads, floor tiles, chopsticks, spoons, straws, coffee filters, plastic cups, popsicle sticks, corn meal, paint brushes, cable ties, duct tape, Tupperware, nails, sand paper and fishing weights.

Lots of scientists use low-tech items.  A friend of mine used a shark-shaped pool toy to observe how fish behave in the presence of a predator, and the video below shows two of my friends using butter knives and an aquarium net to catch coral crabs without destroying the coral!