Which Button will you Push Today? How about Tomorrow?

The TREET program is in the thick of it. Transforming remotely conducted research one day at a time as they work in direct communication and interact with the E/V Nautilus. They are studying the Caribbean Sea’s most active submarine volcano, Kick ’em Jenny.

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Following up my first article regarding the perspective of Masako Tominaga, geophysicist and TREET shore-side watch leader, I needed a 1-on-1 with an integral part of this project, another valuable perspective: the undergraduate researcher.

One of Masako’s very own, Laney Hart, is an undergrad from Michigan State University. She was the subject of my interview. Laney is in pursuit of two degrees in the massively competitive field of ocean sciences, geology and geophysics. At the moment, she has found herself deep in the technological connectivity of the Inner Space Center. Laney is one of the essential team members of the MAPLES group at MSU. Currently in her third year, Ms. Hart has worked closely with Masako and others since her early days, literally. Hart let me know she began her journey with the MAPLES group and Masako just weeks after arriving at the university. It was evident why she was asked to be part of this exclusive opportunity. Composure, an open mindset and scientific grasp on extremely detailed data sets was something I figured all the students involved would exemplify. In fact, they all bring different skills. Laney sailed past my preconceived notions within the first moments of our interview.

Starting slow and building up, I began the interview by asking her to describe her philosophies on science and at sea research. Further more connecting those ideas to her work at the ISC. I said it was a slow start right? I lied.

She informed me that part of the benefits with working in a closely knit group like MAPLES are not just directly related to coaching and guidance in the interested fields of research. At the same time, Masako builds ever increasing bonds with her students. Laney acknowledges that one of the core beliefs is to do what makes you happy, even if it doesn’t directly impact your research. Although it is encouraged, it’s not mandatory. I find this fascinating.

“Passion is the most important thing,” Laney said in the midst of her background story. Passion is the driving force to ask more questions, bring the research to another level and to keep a satisfied smile on your face when you walk away from the challenges of each day. Passion nurtures and maintains a curiosity for science. Molding the thought process.

Almost cutting her off (not a good interview technique by the way) I proposed for her to change topics to her work today, right now. Where does her passion fit into the flow of the ISC and the TREET project?

“I came into this with no expectations,” humbly mentioning how she knew virtually nothing about what we do here at the ISC.

I wondered what she thought when she first walked into mission control?

“Wow, there’s a lot of buttons! It’s like NASA level in here…” the budding expert disclosed. “There’s too many [buttons] and all of the people here know what they do, it’s overwhelming.”

How could she have expected to work here for the next two weeks, never mind mastering her daily research projects and writing evaluations. How was she also going to use the intercoms and converse with the ship, route video feeds and discuss within the science chatroom the visuals of vehicles from the ocean bottom. Oh and let’s not forget direct the decisions of the entire at sea mission from shore. I can say confidently, she was showing me techniques she learned in six days that I didn’t grasp in five years, truly impressive stuff.

Alright I said, thanks for this inspiration Laney, I feel great now, in that “just got bested at what you think you’re best at” sort of way. I wanted to know nuts and bolts now, what about her research.

Normally, Ms. Hart is handed data, already processed, she works it into various programs like clay on a pottery wheel. Visualizing it and communicating the data to knowledgeable peers in her field. Now she is actually processing the data, experiencing how it comes to life after the initial acquisition.

“When I see the video [from the ROVs] here, I see the data, I see the maps being created” she described.

Take a step back, it’s only a live stream, granted it’s from a highly sophisticated machine traveling a ridiculous distance across the globe, how can you see the maps? Unpack that for me.

For her there is a lot of satisfaction in this personal connection. She watches the ROV move across a site of interest and she immediately knows how she will process the data. If you happened to read the first article on Masako, this isn’t that unorthodox for the future researchers and current ones of MAPLES. This personal connection between data and processor is prevalent throughout the group. It’s the curiosity, driven by passion, that yields the feeling of contentment.

The technology enlisted at the ISC fosters her increasingly hard to find driven personality. She wants to be more a part of it than before. She is in the game, hook, line, and sinker.

But Laney, what about the buttons? (I had to ask) Which ones are you pushing now, how about in the future?

Another part of the project is evaluating the experiences with telepresence and ships at sea. She mentioned how she would wishes for future projects to involve more students at her level. No mistakes here, she is honored to be selected for the program but she wants more driven undergrads to share the passion, the work, and the buttons. Plus, at the end of the day when she walks out of the ISC and does her actual homework, school is still in session, someone needs to continue processing all that data.

Here at the Inner Space Center, although considered an extension of the ship, it’s inherently different. On the ship, you’re stuck. No matter how well you can swim, there are still sharks and stuff so might as well stay onboard, you will most likely learn a thing or two from the expert scientists anyway. At the Inner Space Center, you can be deeply embedded in the mission for 8 hours straight, then hop in your car and head the library. Or take the elevator to the library upstairs.

She left the interview with a comment about how for a student in her position, it’s perfect to be able to leave after a six hour shift and do other work. After all, she still has to graduate.

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