by Leslie Sandefur ’15
Every spring, accomplished students interested in science from Lincoln Academy are selected to participate in the Keller BLOOM Program at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. The Bigelow Laboratory is a research lab in Boothbay, ME, and since 1989 has hosted the annual Keller BLOOM Program for Maine high school juniors. BLOOM (Bigelow Laboratory Order of Magnitude) is a residential program where students receive hands-on research, lab work, and field work experience alongside professional marine scientists.
Theo Seidel ‘17 is the latest of Lincoln Academy students to participate in the program. Participants are chosen from a pool of applicants from across the state. The program tries to accept one student from each Maine county, for a total of 16 participants each year. The application requires a written essay and two letters of recommendations, and students are selected “based on academic record, level of interest, and communication skills.” Seidel has some advice for future applicants. “The essay question is what marine invertebrate you would want to be. Don’t make it only scientific – make it interesting and have fun with it!”
Seidel heard about the Keller BLOOM program from past LA participants, as well as from his father, who is a marine biologist that has worked in the past with Bigelow scientist David Fields. David Fields has co-coordinated the Keller BLOOM program since his arrival at the Bigelow Laboratory in 2004. The week-long program ran from May 23-27 this year. Since it’s conception 28 years ago, Fields says that BLOOM’s core program has changed very little, however, they have been able to do more in-depth data analysis with students over recent years, as students are entering the program with higher levels of mathematical and technological skills.
On day one of the program, students embark on a ten-hour long research cruise on the Sheepscot River Estuary. They visit four different sites to collect biological samples including viruses, bacteria, phytoplankton, zooplankton, as well as samples of physical characteristics of a marine environment including salinity, light levels, and nutrients. During the day on the boat, students work alongside scientists who specialize in different areas of research. Lydia Harris ‘16, who attended the BLOOM program in 2015, stressed how valuable it was to work alongside the Bigelow scientists, as each were able to provide insight into their specific field of research. Harris described how beneficial it was to see the scientists’ own research and what they were currently working on. The hands-on approach of the Keller BLOOM program allows students to immerse themselves into what a real workday of a marine scientist looks like. “It’s a lot of patience and hard work. The project we did only took a few days, but the projects they’re doing can take months or years,” Harris explained.
Next, students spend two days processing and analyzing the samples they collected. Students look for relationships between the different types of data, and develop hypotheses about what causes them. “Our hope is that the BLOOM students will learn what it means to create a hypothesis, design an experiment, test the hypotheses and critically examine data. Science is a process of inquiry. The skills learned while doing science are not only relevant to the traditional scientific career but also provide a framework for problem-solving across disciplines,” David Fields explained. BLOOM participants are able to utilize the state-of-the-art technology and equipment in the Bigelow Laboratory. Students work in small groups, rotating throughout the week, giving each participant the opportunity to work with everyone in the program. Harris recalls making friends with like-minded students who shared her passion for marine science another goal of the BLOOM program. “It was a really interesting experience to be with other students that are psyched about the same things, and to be lead by scientists who were also psyched about the same things!” she said.
At the end of the week, students create a presentation and present their findings and data to the laboratory staff, and family and friends. While the week at Bigelow lab wraps up, the effect that BLOOM has on students is far from over. Students come into the program with an initial passion for science, and leave with added interest and a real understanding of the day to day work of a marine scientist. Students almost always continue to build on their education in marine science after BLOOM is over. According to the Bigelow Laboratory website, 100% of students that leave the Keller BLOOM program attend college, 70% major in science or mathematics, and 50% continue into marine science related fields. “Over the years I have worked with BLOOM students during their senior years in high school helping to mentor them through an independent project at their school or as an intern in my lab. BLOOM students often come back to Bigelow as paid interns or volunteers during the summers of their college years,” David Fields said.
As for Lincoln Academy students, the positive impact of the BLOOM program is clear. Theo Seidel is returning to the Bigelow Laboratory this summer to work in IT. While he used to want to go into engineering, Seidel is now interested in bioinformatics, an interdisciplinary field that combines science and biology with computer science. Lydia Harris is spending her first summer after graduation teaching at a marine science camp with the organization Oceanswide. Harris will be attending Brandeis University in the fall to study biology, and possibly minor in Environmental Science. Both Harris and Seidel agree that they would definitely recommend students with an interest in science look into the Keller BLOOM program. “Whether you’re interested in marine science specifically or science in general, it’s still a really fun, informative experience,” Harris added.
Leslie Sandefur is a student at Boston College who graduated from Lincoln Academy in 2015. She is currently working as a summer intern in the LA Communications Office.