Coastal Studies Expansion Brings New Marine Science Semester to Bowdoin

Big changes are astir at the Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island, where Coastal Studies director David Carlon is leading an initiative to bring Bowdoin’s unique marine offerings to a whole new level by dramatically expanding facilities and programming – with the crowning addition of a Marine Science Semester slated to kick off at the Center next fall.

The 118-acre site, given to Bowdoin in 1981 by William Thalheimer ’27 and his wife Irma, lies only 12 miles down the road from campus. “It’s a perfect natural lab that provides access to a wealth of opportunities for marine research,” Carlon said. Recent student and faculty projects based at the site include a study of invasive green crab diets (and their potential impacts on the shellfish industry), studies of the alga that causes red tide and paralytic shellfish poisoning, and much more.

In the midst of this natural lab is Bowdoin’s actual Marine Laboratory, which unveiled new facilities this fall after a summer of renovations. A reconfiguration and expansion of the original building has transformed the existing “wet laboratory” with a new modular tank design and improved water quality, allowing researchers to maintain a diversity of marine organisms for their studies. Connected to the wet lab is a brand-new “dry laboratory” classroom that enables both microscopy and molecular biology, so that students and faculty can conduct research on whole organisms, single cells, or single molecules.

The Coastal Studies Center farmhouse has also been brought up to date with new audiovisual equipment, improved data connection speed, and a set of large-screen desktop computers for computationally demanding science laboratories.

No sooner were the summer’s renovations completed than Bowdoin acquired a new research vessel, the R/V A.O.K., which joined the R/V Laine and a Maritime Skiff at the Coastal Studies Center dock in mid-September. Donated anonymously to the College, this 28-foot Parker Hull with twin outboard motors allows faculty to take students to offshore research sites that are beyond the reach of the College’s other vessels.

Along with these growing facilities and resources, the scope of activities hosted at the site has been widening as well. Faculty across the curriculum have begun meeting at the farmhouse for writing retreats. The surrounding network of wooded trails is traversed by skiers, runners, and hikers, including first-year students on orientation trips led by the Outing Club. The newly formed archery team meets at the Coastal Studies Center, and the sailing team now calls the site home, thanks to recent construction of the Charles M. Leighton Sailing Center, opened in Spring 2014 and dedicated last week.

But some of the biggest developments are yet to come. In Fall 2015, Bowdoin will debut its annual Marine Science Semester, an immersion experience in marine field work, lab work, and independent research. The residential semester will be geared toward juniors and seniors – from Bowdoin and other colleges – who are interested in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, earth and oceanographic science, or environmental studies. Students will take four courses sequentially in three-to-four-week modules, with a pair of visiting faculty researchers aiding Bowdoin’s Coastal Studies faculty members in teaching the interactive curriculum.

Another important plan in the works is a network of autonomous sensors and data-logging systems to monitor climate conditions on land and sea, bringing Bowdoin to the forefront of participation in international climate change research.

Meanwhile, students and faculty continue to conduct a wide array of research projects year-round, not only at the Coastal Studies Center but also at field sites up and down the Maine coast, and beyond – including at the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island, New Brunswick. Earlier this fall, Carlon reinitiated a long-dormant tradition of taking Bowdoin students aboard the historic Arctic schooner Bowdoin, now owned and operated by Maine Maritime Academy. Sailing on a three-day voyage out of Rockland, Maine, the students had a unique opportunity to conduct marine research while learning to operate an 88-foot wooden ship in the chilly but beautiful Gulf of Maine.

As its slate of research activities, educational programming, and infrastructure continues to grow, Coastal Studies is becoming a truly unique undergraduate program – one that sets Bowdoin apart from liberal arts colleges across the country.

“It’s an exciting time for Coastal Studies and for the College,” Carlon said. “By building on the incredible resources we already have, Bowdoin is really poised to become a leader in marine biology and oceanography research and teaching.”

Photography by Dennis Griggs/Tannery Hill Studios

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