Ross Students Explore Marine Science Using Eco Labs

EcoLab4 The start of the spring season has been busy for the Innovation Lab @Ross Marine Science class and their teacher, Dr. Jack Szczepanski. In the eco labs, specialized labs for studying biology and ecology located in Building 1 on Ross’s Upper School campus, exciting undertakings abound—from raising cuttlefish and turtles to embarking on the first phase of resurrecting the large saltwater aquarium.

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Most of the current contents of the eco labs are projects that students developed with Jack’s help. Ninth grader Tali Friedman is spearheading the rehab of the large display tank. She is currently making an algae scrubber, a device that uses light to grow algae, and will eventually add some dogfish and other species of marine life to the tank.

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Small red-eared slider turtles are being nurtured by sophomore Ray Schefferine, who aspires to be a digital designer for a video game company. He’s studying the turtles and using design software to reconstruct a digital version of the head of a large snapping turtle.

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Junior Shanshan He has constructed an Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure (ARMS) and used it to analyze local communities of small marine species in Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton. She is working on producing a field guide to South Pacific reef communities, a venture stemming from a Field Academy trip to the Solomon Islands. Evi Saunders, a sophomore, will use the facilities to study the cognitive abilities of cuttlefish once they have hatched.

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Senior Liam Cummings built an autonomous data-collecting vessel for his Senior Project, and is now using it to test the concentration of iodine in our local waters and seaweed.

Jack says the year has been an adventure: “Most of our work is hands-on learning, and when you are dealing with live creatures, the results are unpredictable and rewarding.” After mentoring a Field Academy trip to study the coastal ecology of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, he was eager to return to Ross to see how his own ecosystems were getting along. He discovered that many of the specimens in and around the lab had “been getting a bit frisky,” a sure sign that spring was in the air (especially for the corn snakes and snails in the reef aquarium). Jack hopes to post an update on the cuttlefish project on his blog next week, as well as share other news as the trimester plays out.

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The class is wrapping up the school year with some field trips, including a recent visit the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead. Jack says they also plan to “get into the water” with experts from the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (based on Shinnecock Bay in Southampton) to learn about field collection methods and our local Long Island waters.