News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, June 26, 2014
On board the E/V Nautilus
Exploring the Mesoamerican Reef with BHCS teacher Nell Herrmann

BHCS science teacher Nell Herrmann

Science teacher Nell Herrmann, from Blue Hill Consolidated School in Maine, will join the R/V Nautilus as a science communication fellow, exploring the Mesoamerican Reef, in July 2014.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Embarking on a Caribbean cruise is many people’s idea of a dream vacation. For Nell Herrmann, a seventh and eighth grade teacher at Blue Hill Consolidated School, the experience is all about science.

Herrmann will fly into Belize and then sail to the waters off Puerto Rico to join the E/V Nautilus as a science communication fellow for its expedition through the Mesoamerican Reef off the Belizean and Honduran coasts.

“I’m always looking for real world science to share with my students,” Herrmann said in a recent interview.

As a science communication fellow, Herrmann will narrate the expedition via the Nautilus website, which will send a live stream from two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Dr. Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic shipwreck, will lead the expedition, which will be looking for biodiversity and unique corals in the world’s second largest reef. (The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest.)

“People will be able to watch in real time,” Herrmann said, while she will “talk about what we see, as we see it.”

While the web stream will broadcast continuously, Herrmann has arranged six public sessions at BHCS, where students and community members can ask questions and exchange ideas in real time on an interactive large screen.

Students from BHCS have already begun to share the adventure of the deep seas through the beginnings of an ocean exploration club that Herrmann hopes to launch in the fall. Already, her students built a small-scale ROV and lowered it into Blue Hill Bay. While it was a fraction of the size of Hercules and Argos, the two Nautilus ROVs that will be lowered into the ocean by crane, the principles are the same.

“We had to take into account some of the same variables,” Herrmann said, like buoyancy and density and the current and winds.

Apart from size, the Hercules and Argos have a major advantage over what Herrmann and her students constructed—robotic arms that will collect samples and sediment cores.

“Sometimes they discover new species,” she said, citing the squat lobster, an arthropod discovered by a friend on a similar expedition. “ROVs really allow us access to parts of the planet we wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and [provide] information we wouldn’t be able to gather.”

No one knows just what the Nautilus will find. “We don’t know what we’re going to see,” Herrmann said. “The whole thing is ocean exploration.”

But her students have some hopes of their own. “They, of course, would love to see any shipwrecks,” she said.

This will be the second time Herrmann connects with students from a research expedition. In 2012, she joined the Polar TREC, which paired classroom teachers with researchers in Antarctica. While there, she Skyped with students from BHCS and Pennsylvania. Students, she said, are interested in stories, asking about the people on the expedition, from researchers to the ship’s cooks. “When you can share the story with them…you make it real,” she said.

By showing the “process of science, students learn that we don’t always know what we’re doing and what we’re going to find. It’s not always as easy as looking it up in the book.”

Herrmann began her career as a scientist, studying ecology and wildlife biology before switching to teaching after speaking to a high school environmental science class.

“I realized I just love teaching. I found if I could share my love of science with kids, it was incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Herrmann knows first-hand the value of great science teachers. “I had two teachers who made me really fall in love with science. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have become a scientist.”