LA biology teacher Matt Buchwalder explains some of the working parts of the planktoscope to the students involved in the project, which is a partnership between Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Lincoln Academy.

Four Lincoln Academy ninth graders are working with LA biology teacher Matt Buchwalder and Bigelow scientist David Fields to build a “planktoscope” in the LA Applied Technology and Engineering Center (ATEC). Students Piper Carleton, Elliott Chapman, Conor Glasier, and Annie Peaslee have been meeting in the ATEC building after school since January 2021, cutting out a plexiglass frame and assembling a collection of small parts using the school’s CNC machine and laser cutter as well as other tools in ATEC.

LA ninth graders (from left) Piper Carleton, Elliott Chapman, Conor Glasier, and Annie Peaslee working in ATEC on the plantonscope project. They used Lincoln Academy’s CNC machine to cut large pieces of plexiglass and the laser cutter to cut the smaller pieces for the device, which will be used to photograph plankton.

LA ninth graders (from left) Piper Carleton, Elliott Chapman, Conor Glasier, and Annie Peaslee working in ATEC on the planktoscope project. They used Lincoln Academy’s CNC machine to cut large pieces of plexiglass and the laser cutter to cut the smaller pieces for the device, which will be used to photograph plankton.

When complete, the planktoscope will combine a digital camera with a microscope and software that allows it to scan and photograph water samples to identify and count different species of plankton.

“Traditionally, devices like this can cost up to $10,000,” said Buchwalder. “Our planktoscope will be able to do the same functions for less than $400 in parts.” Design, Engineering, and Technology teacher Ryan Wynne has assisted the group with using the school’s CNC machine to cut out the plexiglass body of the device. Eventually, each student will build their own copy of the planktoscope and use it to develop their own experiment for their Honors Biology class.

LA DET teacher Ryan Wynne (left) and Bigelow Scientist David Fields (Right) work on the LA laser cutter.

LA DET teacher Ryan Wynne (left) and Bigelow Scientist David Fields (Right) work on the LA laser cutter.

“The planktoscope is a great project for students to apply what they learn in shop class, computer science, marine biology and scientific writing, or journaling,” said David Fields, Senior Research Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay. “The first few weeks of this project are just building and keeping a notebook. The second month involves working with the software and learning how to program the machine to work for us. By early spring and beyond, students will use the video microscope that they built to ask questions about organisms in the ocean. If the students remain interested, they can use the tool through their high school years and develop a really fantastic research project.”

These pieces cut by a laser cutter will eventually be used in the planktonscope.

These pieces cut by a laser cutter will eventually be used in the planktonscope.

Fields, who coordinates other high school outreach efforts at Bigelow including the Keller BLOOM program, is excited to work with LA students on this project. “Part of Bigelow’s mandate is education and outreach. Over the years we have targeted students as juniors in high school and juniors in college to engage with scientists. Our hope is that students understand that science covers a large umbrella. We need people who can design and build machines, write software code, drive boats, draw figures, and communicate results. The earlier students recognize how many skill sets are involved in science, how many roles are important to the research process, the more likely they will be to pursue a career in science.”

“I joined the planktoscope project because it sounded like an amazing project to work with amazing people, and it has turned out to be exactly what I thought it would be,” said ninth grader Elliott Chapman, who hopes to someday work as an environmental scientist or biotech engineer. “I love the peers and teachers I am working with, and I love doing real experiments with technology and science. This is an experience of a lifetime!”

“The timing couldn’t have been better,” said Buchwalder. “When David contacted me about the opportunity to get involved with this project, my Honors Biology students were just deciding on potential topics for their independent experiment projects. These four students had the right mix of interest in marine science and knack for engineering to make them a perfect fit for the planktoscope project. We’re grateful to Bigelow and our ATEC faculty for making this possible.”