VIMS open house highlights marine technology

  • Marine Technology  Electronic Tech Supervisor Todd Nelson shows off some of the uses of marine technology at VIMS.  © C. Katella/VIMS.
  • Fish Collection  The Nunnally Ichtyology Collection at VIMS is always a popular stop during Marine Science Day.  © C. Katella/VIMS.
  • Underwater Grasses  VIMS graduate student AJ Johnson (R) talks about underwater grasses with guests during Marine Science Day.  © C. Katella/VIMS.
  • Oyster Hatchery  Dr. Jessica Moss-Small describes oyster husbandry to guests during Marine Science Day.  © C. Katella/VIMS.
  • Microscopes  Guests learn about oyster diseases from VIMS graduate student Lydia Bienlien during Marine Science Day.  © C. Katella/VIMS.
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The Virginia Institute of Marine Science celebrated its annual open house on May 20th, drawing more than 2,000 people to Gloucester Point for a day of learning and fun.

The theme for this year’s event was “Marine Technology,” in recognition of the important role that scientific equipment and equipment-makers play in marine research. Exhibits and activities highlighted not only traditional gear such as nets and buoys, but also next-generation technologies such as drones, virtual-reality goggles, autonomous underwater vehicles, and VIMS’ new confocal microscope.

Susan Maples, Director of Outreach at VIMS, says, “Our guests really enjoyed the new activities and exhibits, as well as the perennial favorites that spark interest and learning year after year.” Marine Science Day 2017 was the 15th-annual installment of VIMS' yearly open house.

For the first time, this year’s event included guided tours of VIMS’ Field Operations area, including a close-up look at research vessels, SCUBA diving gear, and sensor-equipped moorings and buoys. Marine technology was also featured in a number of 10-minute fast talks and as a focus of activities within the “Kids’ Pavilion.”

VIMS Ph.D. student Jessie Turner (R) helps guests build a Cartesian diver to learn about bouyancy.One such activity allowed kids to explore the science of buoyancy by building “Cartesian divers” using plastic bottles and pipettes. Carol Hopper Brill, an education specialist in the Marine Advisory Services program at VIMS, says, “We prepped 300 divers and bottles and used them all. Kids always love building these, and we had a lot of adults asking, ‘How does that work?’ It was a great lesson in physics.”

Marine technology was also the theme for the annual artwork contest—won by Emma Riley for her drawing of an underwater glider— and the “Wacky Science” photo booth, in which participants pose for photos in a surprise scene that is revealed on the VIMS website after the event.

Dr. John Wells, VIMS Dean and Director, says, “Our visitors learned not only what we do at VIMS, but why it’s important, and how it benefits the Commonwealth. This year’s theme helped us highlight our focus on marine entrepreneurship and the innovative use of cutting-edge technology to address the many challenges facing marine environments.”

Wells also thanks the many sponsors of Marine Science Day, who along with faculty, staff, students, and volunteers make the annual event possible. This year’s major sponsors were Dominion Energy, the Christopher Wren Association, The Owens Foundation, and Phillips Energy.

Visitors to this year’s event learned how VIMS scientists help manage blue crabs, breed oysters, survey fish populations, unravel food webs, monitor water quality, restore underwater grasses, and find and remove marine debris, among many other highlighted programs. Some participants also volunteered to help cover the event as “Reporters for an Hour,” with their stories filling the inaugural edition of the Marine Science Day News.

Maples says more than 170 faculty, staff, students, and volunteers contributed to make the day a success. “We are so thankful for the people who help make this event possible each year,” she says. “We literally couldn’t do it without their help.”

Seafood cooking demonstration

During the annual seafood cooking demonstration, Chef Wade O’Neill of the Culinary Institute of Virginia shone the spotlight on sea scallops, enlisting audience members to help demonstrate how to properly sear a dry scallop and shallow-fry bacon-wrapped scallops. He then prepared 3 entrees for attendees to sample: a rustic salad with scallops and brie-filled croutons, cajun corn maque choux topped with bacon-wrapped scallops, and pasta tossed with pistachio pesto and topped with grilled scallops. 

Celia Cackowski, education specialist in Marine Advisory Services, says, “The audience seemed to really enjoy this year's seafood demo and asked lots of good questions.”

Costume Contest

The always-popular Marine Life Costume Contest—in which children and adults from around Tidewater model their handmade creature costumes—drew an enthusiastic crowd.

Canton Murpy won best overall for his squid costume.Canton Murphy won best overall in the contest with his squid costume, while Leif Schroeder won most original plant or animal with his personification of an ocean sunfish. Winter Schroeder and Tori Scott won best group costume for their lamprey outfits, and Coles Bryor was recognized for the most creative use of materials with his portrayal of a starfish. Best representation of a plant or animal went to Marian Wesley who dressed as a blue whale.

Art Contest Winners

Each year, VIMS staff choose the artwork for Marine Science Day programs, posters, and T-shirts from entries submitted by local artists, with the subject matter reflecting the Marine Science Day theme.

The Grand Prize winner in this year’s marine technology artwork contest was Emma Riley, a 9th grader at York High School who lives in Williamsburg. She was recognized for her colorful drawing of an underwater glider.

Winners in the K-8th grade category were:

  • 1st Place: Olivia Nelson
  • 2nd Place: Holli Diggs
  • 3rd Place: Elizabeth Reilly
  • Honorable Mentions: Abigail Junker, Brooklyn Carter, Nadia Grant, Allison Eacho, Elin Park, and Rory Raftery

Winners in the High School/ Adults category were:

  • 1st Place: Emma Reilly
  • 2nd Place: Elsa Barrientos
  • 3rd Place: Mariella Smith
  • Honorable Mentions: Parada Peerachidacho, Monica Laubach, Michael Kehayes, and Jessica Lawso