LIving in a laboratory…, ODYSSEY Gulf Blog (year 3), Day 37, Saturday, June 30, 2012

Day 37 true, Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

Living in a laboratory is not as romantic as it sounds.  No really, it’s not. Last night was a perfect example.

I had gone to bed late. Very late. It was about 1:30 am. We launched later in the evening, had dinner and then I needed to write my email to all of you. I figured it was a necessary email given the concern about out launch. So I stayed up and wrote.

As I finished up, we had spotty email service so it took some time to get the email sent.  I was up so late that my son James sent me an instant message via gmail expressing concern that I was still up. “Just writing”, I told him. Finally, with all notes sent and wrapped up I headed to bed.

No sooner than did my head hit the pillow when the incubator started alarming. It is an annoying little twinkling high pitched tone especially given the late hour and the fact that it was empty of cells at the moment. We learned some time ago that the racks inside the incubator can slide forward a bit in the waves and knock the seal slightly open. This crack causes the alarm. I got up adjusted it and went back to bed.

I was just drifting off to an overdue sleep, when Sandy started kicking me. The incubator was alarming again. Call it the consequence of sleeping on the outside of the bed or, perhaps, a perk of being the cook, but it fell to me to get up and adjust it again. I did. It stopped.

But then, again, as I started to drift off it went off again. I fixed it again. It went off again. I fixed it again. After several rounds of this routine I began to have thoughts of how to throw the incubator overboard and then go to sleep. But, we have work to do and I came to realize I would not be able to sleep until I fixed it somehow.

I know what you are thinking. Why not just turn it off?  Yeah, I thought about that too. The problem is that one never knows when we might be on whales and that incubator needed to be ready if sunrise lead us to a whale sample.

Now, the other problem I was facing is that the cook has to sleep and gets up at 6 am.  By now, it was 2:45 am so I had to avoid waking her. That meant minimize the clanging of metal shelves, keeping the alarm quiet and no overhead lights!  Quite the challenge for a sleepy scien.tist on a rocking boat. Oh yeah, and one final hurdle, the floor in front of the incubator curves up quite a few degrees with the hull of the boat so I would be standing uphill  the whole time!

So there I was standing uphill on a rocky boat, waves pushing me off this little incubator hill, wearing a headlamp to keep the light down, looking like a coal miner deep in a coal mine. I was quite the sight. I opened the door and assessed the problem. There were 4 heavy stainless steel gimbaled platforms we use to maintain the cells. Two large stainless steel shelves. and the racks to hold them. Outside, I had just enough space to hold 1 shelf. Not too promising.

I set to work. The waves pushed me back and I pushed back at them balancing precariously on this little hill while emptying the incubator in a dark room. The doors clanged together over and over. The alarm went off again and again.  Aware that while I had the light under reasonable control, but this cacophony of noise was not doing the cook any good. So I tossed her a pillow to try and drown the sound out. Yeah, I know, but it was the middle of the night, what else could I do. She covered her face

I tried reversing the racks.  No go, they stuck out too far in the opposite direction.  Two little feet sticking out and in the way.  I tried to velcro the racks to the back wall.  No good, the velcro would not hold tight. I dug through the supplies under our bunk to find the better velcro. It stuck but it could not get enough purchase to keep the rack from sliding.

My frustration was rising.  Three years I have slept with this incubator and only now in the middle of the night is it giving me these problems.  It was dark. I was hot and sweaty and tired. I swear I had walked up the tiny incubator hill 100 times pushed back by waves each time.  I reconsidered the throw it overboard option for a moment.

Finally, I gave the situation one more consideration. There really was only one option. I was going to have to try and velcro the small feet holding the racks into place.  There were four of them and they were about a half inch long and a quarter inch wide. A tiny amount of surface to velcro to the bottom. But they were the major points of contact with the incubator.

So I sized and cut and resized and recut and finally had all four of them done and in place.  Amazingly the darn things held pretty good! Only problem left was that it was now 3:45 am. I had had no sleep and would have to watch this incubator for another 30 minutes while it regained temperature so I could silence the alarm and see if this solution worked.

I played cards on my phone and watched. I heard Johnny start his helm watch and deploy the array. The degrees went up by decimals oh so slowly, and the alarm went off every 5 minutes, but sure enough, they held I was exhausted and knew I would get limited sleep for the day, but I was triumphant. I also had a chuckle later in the morning as Johnny wrote about the his helm watch and in it described the rest of us as peacefully slumbering in our beds. Oh if he only knew.  Next time, I am dragging him in to help!  I have attached a picture of the feet fastened with black velcro.

The day dragged on slowly for a long time. Then just before 4 pm, Bob told me we had some whales.  I made the call and by 4:30 we had 2 biopsies and by 6 we had 5.  It was a remarkable couple of hours and exhilarating for all, especially the new members who saw whales in the wild for the first time!

I have attached pictures of Leah delivering arrows to Johnny and processing samples in the lab; Amanda collecting data; and two perspectives of Madison working the net. One was taken by me and if you look in the background you can see Sandy taking a picture of me taking that picture (Johnny is the one on the whale boom). Thus the other picture is that picture Sandy took of Madison with me in the background.  She had the better light and the better camera.  Of course, I have attached the sunset picture of the day and one with Madison on the whale boom in the setting sun.

But now, I am really worn out from my late night incubator wrestling so I am going to sign off.  Tired but triumphant from an incubator solved and 5 biopsies taken.

Oh I did find the date on yesterdays was wrong (June 30). Since today is June 30, it was day 37. I am also pleased to report that as of right now, 10:45 pm,  that alarm has yet to go off since I fixed it and those shelves have not moved. Let’s hope it lasts.

Good night.

John

P.S.  If you want to see our location on Google Maps we are at:
29.06N, 88.246W

just paste in the coordinates and click search

If you want to read the previous days of these messages- they are posted at www.usm.maine.edu/toxicology/gulf and click on “read logs here”.


John Pierce Wise, Sr., Ph.D.

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