Deep-Ocean Research Program Includes Four Pennsylvania Science Teachers

August 20, 1998

Four Pennsylvania middle-school and high-school science teachers spent part of the summer studying active volcanoes and hydrothermal vents more than a mile below the surface of the ocean, thanks to financial support from Penn State, the National Science Foundation, and the University of Washington.

Sandra Ivey, of Bangor Area Senior High School in Bangor; Patti Peterson, of Palisades High School in Richlandtown; Ellen Wright, of Perry Traditional Academy in Pittsburgh; and Roy DeRemer, of Warwick Middle School in Lititz, were among a handful of U.S. teachers selected to participate in one of two research cruises this summer as part of the program based at the University of Washington titled Research and Education: Volcanoes, Exploration, and Life (REVEL). One cruise was filmed for use on the television documentary program, NOVA.

The REVEL program is directed by Veronique Robigou at the University of Washington. Penn State Associate Professor of Biology Charles Fisher, an active REVEL participant and organizer for the past three years and the chief scientist for the program's most recent expedition, obtained the funding to include Pennsylvania teachers for the first time this year.

Fisher also is one of the principal scientists in a long-term project to establish a biological observatory at this research site in "inner space" on the Juan de Fuca Ridge submarine spreading center 200 miles off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and Canada, where new sea floor is continuously being created.

"The teachers got about 20 days of professional development, at sea and in workshops, which they will begin sharing with their students in Pennsylvania this fall," Fisher says. "Grants from the Penn State's Eberly College of Science and the Penn State Outreach and Cooperative Extension office, along with support from the National Science Foundation, made it possible for these teachers to be with us this summer," Fisher says.

They joined an international team of marine biologists, chemists and geologists in a multi-year effort to understand how communities of animals live on and around mineral chimneys known as Òblack smokersÓ and other structures associated with underwater volcanoes. "We had on board a very diverse group of scientists, including ecologists, physiologists, microbiologists, chemists, and geologists, who the teachers worked with around the clock on studies involving samples collected from the sea floor," Fisher says.

Some of the teachers were on a cruise led by Fisher that used as its principal research tool the three-seater submarine, Alvin, which the scientists used to set up experiments on the sea floor, collect samples of biological and geological materials, and take video and still-camera images. The other cruise, led by John Delaney and Deborah Kelley of the University of Washington, had as its principal research tool the remotely operated vehicle, ROPOS, which the researchers used to bring up from the sea floor, for the first time, several very large black smoker sulfide chimneys--the largest of which is 1.5 meters tall. Several of the black smokers will be on exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History in New York next spring.

"It was satisfying to watch the teachers immediately combining their shipboard experience with their special skills to put together the beginnings of lesson plans," Fisher says. The teachers plan to share the new lesson plans they develop to communicate, with other Pennsylvania and U.S. teachers, not only the facts about the hydrothermal vents but also their enthusiasm for the scientific process of research.

"I will be going to every school in our district to do presentations for students and faculty and have also been asked to go to schools in Bethlehem, Quakertown, Nazareth, Marple Newtown, and Upper Merion, plus some colleges and businesses in Pennsylvania," says teacher Sande Ivey, who also plans to continue working in her classroom on the research project she started at sea. "My "pay back" to Penn State will be to do the very best job that I can to teach students and faculty what I learned this summer," she adds.

"Using my REVEL experience of working with scientists doing frontier research in one of the most extreme environments on Earth, I hope to model the process of "doing" science for my students, several of whom will be actively involved with further study of the problems investigated on the ship," says teacher Pat Peterson. "I believe that REVEL specifically addresses the objectives that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has recently adopted for use in the development of curriculum in public education in our state--besides, it was really cool stuff for a little old schoolteacher from Pa. to get to do," she adds.

"A few of the classroom activities that I see my students becoming involved in as a direct result of this expedition are comparing and contrasting Western Pennsylvania ecosystems to the hydrothermal-vent ecosystem, using RNA and DNA data from the vent organisms to analyze the amount of protein synthesis taking place, and using DNA fingerprinting data to determine if the organisms at different vents are the same species," says teacher Ellen Wright. "My students also will benefit because I have a new network of scientists and teachers with whom to collaborate," she says.

Fisher says he is thoroughly pleased with both the scientific success of the expedition and the success of the REVEL program. "My own enthusiasm for this program stems from my belief that it is never too soon to excite a young mind with the pleasures and rewards of scientific inquiry. I am thrilled that we can contribute to this goal while also enriching our scientific program."

Sponsors of the REVEL program include the National Science Foundation, the University of Washington, the American Museum of Natural History, and Penn State. More information about the teachers is available at the REVEL project site on the World Wide WEb at <>.

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Scientist Charles Fisher at Penn State, 814-865-3365 or 814-863-7034,

Scientist Veronique Robigou at the University of Washington, 206-543-9282,

Teacher Pat Peterson, 610 346-8975 (at home), 610 847-5131 Ext 2244 (at school after August 26),

Teacher Sandra Ivey, 215-536-4020 (home) or 610-588-2105 (school),

Teacher Ellen Wright, 412-323-3400 (school),

PIO Barbara Kennedy, 814-863-4682,

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