Guest blogger: Jeffrey Matthews ’14
I bet that when you think of octopuses (yes, that’s the plural of ‘octopus,’ though ‘octopi’ is also technically correct), you think, ‘neuroscience’. No? Well, I doubt that the future cephalopod residents of Dickinson’s new Sea Lab will be making this connection either. Fortunately, someone sees the potential of the neuroscience-cephalopod link: David Edelman, Bennington’s new professor of neuroscience. A man on a mission of discovery, David can’t wait to get cracking on research that could offer insights into fundamental questions regarding brain evolution, learning, memory, and visual perception. It’s also worth noting that the new Sea Lab will be one of just a handful of laboratories in the world exploring the neurobiology
of the octopus. But, wait! Don’t go rushing off to the Dickinson Science building expecting to see octopuses just yet. The animals haven’t arrived, and even if they had, the system that will handle a gargantuan 1,650 plus gallons of artificial seawater in the Sea Lab hasn’t been completely plumbed yet. But, never fear science enthusiasts; David and his diligent crew have been hard at work installing eight, 250 pound, 6‘x2‘x2’ acrylic aquariums, a network of pipes and valves, monitors, bioreactors, UV filters, and the other components necessary for life support in a marine environment. This isn’t to say that progress hasn’t been made. Seven of the eight giant acrylic tanks are now in place atop stands fabricated from industrial agricultural bins (each normally used to hold 1000lbs. of tomato slurry) and thick Ikea kitchen countertops. As humble as the tank stands sound, the amount of weight they’ll need to support is14,000 lbs. of seawater, acrylic tanks weighing 250 lbs. each, and 100 lbs. of rock and gravel in each tank. The tables have been tasked with a formidable challenge indeed–especially considering that they are going to support the equivalent of three-and-a-half 2014 Ford Explorer SUVs!
Come visit the lab and look closely; you will see that the acrylic tanks are shining and blemish-free. This is especially impressive, given their previous year in service and a 2,915-mile journey from San Diego California that left them heavily scratched and dirty. Just a note about scratches, dings, and blemishes: it takes many hours of sanding, buffing, and polishing to restore worn acrylic to the kind of pristine mirror finish on display in the laboratory. Scratches and other defects may seem like trivial details, but when it comes to building an effective and functional marine laboratory, details do matter.