Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fun Facts About Aquaculture

Is it embarrassing to pick up a blog I haven't used for 15 months? I'm going to go with no. While a lot has changed since I last posted on here - I spent a year as editor in chief of NUScience Magazine, reached the halfway point of my undergraduate education, and spent six months working full time in the Corporate Communications department at Vertex Pharmaceuticals - my end goal hasn't really wavered at all. I'm still excited about becoming a science journalist, and am pursuing any and all opportunities I can to further that dream.

For the next six months or so, that pursuit will take the form of an internship at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI, pronounced "who-y"). I'll be living in Cape Cod and working full time as a Science Writing Intern in the communications department of this incredible research institution. The first couple of days have been pretty quiet, but I've already started to dive in to the world of oceanography and marine science.

From what I've seen so far, both the researchers and communicators here already have a grasp on what I prioritize most in science writing, which is presenting complex information in a clear and interesting way. On my first day, I attended a meeting entitled, "Challenges and Opportunities for Robotics and Automation Applied to Aquaculture." Other than the extended essay I wrote in high school that focused on the pros and cons of genetically modified salmon, aquaculture is a topic that before Monday, I knew little about, and my knowledge of automative technology was even more poor. I was pleased and surprised to find that the information that was presented in a way that even someone who had minimal knowledge of the basic concepts could understand. Just for fun, here are a few of the cool facts I learned about aquaculture during my half-day immersion:

  • Aquaculture is one potential solution to the population problem. The world population may exceed nine billion before the year 2050, and humans may consume at least 40 million tons of seafood per year by that point. Much of our fish is farmed already, but the aquaculture industry is likely to expand to meet that growing need. 
  • Fish farming is one of the most environmentally efficient ways to make animal protein. This means that concerns over increased greenhouse gas emissions may steer us toward more aquaculture in the future. 
This graph shows the efficiency of farming fish compared to other animal protein (figure courtesy of globalaginvesting.com).
  • Most of the population views seafood as healthy but expensive. As a result, seafood is purchased more often when people are feeling wealthy, but people gravitate toward cheaper options of chicken and steak when they feel they can't fund a seafood diet. Currently, human seafood consumption is increasing. 
  • Most aquaculture today is done close to shore, but there are plenty of advantages to open ocean fish farming, including better water quality. However, logistical problems and a rougher environment have prevented major expansion of open ocean aquaculture thus far. 
An example of what an open water fish farm - this one is known as the Aquapod - looks like (image courtesy of atlasofthefuture.org). 
  • Innovation in robotics technology may provide a solution for the above problem. Automation is already used for activities like feeding and cleaning, but as the technology develops, the possibilities for improvement are essentially endless. The use of Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) could allow aquaculture technology to expand significantly. 
An example of an AUV used at WHOI (image courtesy of Chris German). 
  • While salmon/cod aquaculture is accomplished through large cages or enclosures, mussels are captured solely through the use of frayed ropes. The mussels stick to the ropes and are later placed inside mesh tubes - sort of like a cotton sock. The sock eventually disintegrates in the water, and within a couple of years, the mussels are ready for harvesting. 
An example of mussel farming - the mesh covering is the "cotton sock" referred to above (image courtesy of romplastica.net).
  • The biggest threat for mussel farmers is predation from ducks, who approach the ropes and can swallow the mussels whole. Automative technology that involves a combination of light and sound is being explored to scare the ducks away from their prey. 
This duck has a mouthful of zebra mussels (image courtesy of David Stimac)! 
  • Robotics technology is also used to target harmful algal blooms (HABs), which are the main cause of many forms of shellfish poisoning. Forecasting technology allows researchers to track the distribution of the resting cysts that lead to contamination in sensitive areas. 
I'm amazed by how much I learned in just one day, and overwhelmed by the variety of science that goes on here. Good thing I have six months to take it all in. Here's to a few great months of reading writing, and learning in an exciting new place. 

Sources for this article: Presentations by Hauke Kite-Powell, David Kelly, Scott Lindell, Dana Yoerger, and Donald Anderson. See above for image sources. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Back to Busy-ness

After four months of living at home, I am finally back in Boston for the fall semester. I can hardly believe it! Actually, it was the lead-up that was so confusing; now that I've been here about a week, I'm pretty sure I believe it. Being at college in the city - surrounded by people, schoolwork, and various modes of transportation - is a completely different experience than being at home, and I was definitely nervous about the transition (in fact, a part of me wished my already-long summer could have just kept going). However, now that I'm going to new classes, living in a great apartment with my friends, and trying out more Boston restaurants, I remember why I picked this lifestyle.

When I'm away at school, life moves faster, people talk more quickly, and it seems like there's always some activity I should or could be doing. All of that's kind of exhausting, but it's also completely ideal. If my weeks weren't chock-full of 8am classes and science magazine meetings and ever-looming exam dates, it would be pretty difficult to move forward and to become a more skilled writer, a stronger leader, and in general a more organized, successful individual.

I've realized that the part of me that wants to go to The University of Sitting on the Couch With My Cat doesn't quite jive with the part of me that wants to pursue a career as a science journalist. And I've realized that once I tap into the latter personae, I actually like doing homework, sending emails and going to meetings. As a college student, I'm supposed to be busy, and I thrive on it. That doesn't mean I won't still take time to sit on the couch (albeit without my cat) but I'm ready to be back at Northeastern, and I'm excited for what's in store.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Science of Serving

So far this summer, I've worked on my blog, created a LinkedIn, and watched plenty of new movies with family and friends. I've also been waiting tables at a small café about 20 miles from my house, a summer activity that's taken up a large part of my time lately - I've worked the past 8 days in a row. With all the time I've spent making small talk with strangers and writing down breakfast and lunch orders, I thought it would be fun to write a blog post that combined my summer job with my long-term career aspiration: science writing.

Working at a restaurant, especially one that includes a gelato shop and coffee station, requires me to keep a lot of different people and things in my head at one time, and it's easy to get confused. However, as I've worked longer hours and more time at the restaurant, I've found it easier to memorize orders and keep everything straight. By now I can make a latte, brew a new pot of coffee, scoop and ring up two ice creams and take out a table's order within a 10-minute time span. Some of the café's more experienced servers can move even more quickly than I can, and it occurred to me that becoming a skilled server might involve training or rewiring your brain in some way, which would make for a great blog topic.

So I looked it up, and found nothing. Surprisingly - or maybe not that surprisingly - no one seems to have done a study on how servers' brains work (i.e. how they memorize orders and juggle all the different aspects of restaurant function at the same time). I think "The Science of Serving" sounds like a great idea for either an investigative article or a scientific study, but it doesn't seem to have happened yet. I can't explain how my brain is different as a result of working in a restaurant, but I know I've managed to train myself to work more than a week in a row without complete exhaustion. The scientific links to serving aren't as obvious as the links to say, cooking, but I do think there's something to the idea.

When I wrote my first blog post for NUScience, I had trouble coming up with an topic. The blog manager told me that everything is science on some level, so I could write about whatever I wanted. My post ended up being about music therapy, but with that logic, I could have just as easily written about the science of being a server. If I can take an order, scoop gelato and brew coffee all at the same time, then couldn't I be a server, a journalist and a scientist at the same time too? That kind of combination is easier said than done, but I'm certainly doing my best.