April 25, 2006

English, the Language of Science

My berth aboard the Ron H. Brown is much larger than I had expected. It is not much smaller than many walk-in closets. I share a small bathroom between two rooms and four people. One nice feature of the restroom is that you can sit on the toilet and shower your feet. The flushing system is a bit treacherous, however. The toilet flushes like the systems on aircraft, but since it's a ship it's twice as loud, and twice as powerful. You need to be careful not to get too close when the water goes down, at minimum it could suck the shirt right off your back. Rumor has it that a young seaman disappeared mysteriously one day while showering. There has been plenty of fresh hot water, so no complaints. My shower water in the "resort" hotel I lived in while in Africa was nicely pre-chilled. This is bliss. I sleep on the top bunk, which is about 15 inches from the ceiling. It takes some rather skilled gymnastic maneuvers to climb in without stepping on your roommate or smacking your head on the metal ceiling. I first tried using the ladder, but the only thing to grab was the mattress, which tended to fold over backwards. I now have a chair positioned just right, so I can reach the small metal shelf above my bed. I grab the more secure shelf for leverage. I utilize the commando body crawl to reach my pillow. I usually manage to bang my back a few times on the metal tiles above my lair -- good thing it's not live ammunition -- which is rather loud since it's a ship. On more than one occasion I have sat up in the middle of the night and made cranial contact with the ceiling or clavicle connections with the shelf. Don't worry I think the ship will be fine. But once I am snuggled in, I pull shut my personal bunk curtains and I am soon hibernating like a bear. I spoke with other upper bunk dwellers and have learned they are having similar difficulties. Today during a break we compared war wounds. Barbara has a nice purple bruise on her thigh.

Did I say hibernating like a bear? What I meant was, I am grumpy as a bear when thunderous smashing sounds rattle me from my sleep. My bunk rests against the hull where the surface water meets the iron walls of the ship. I have come to better understand the energy the waves possess, as they beat against the wall, and know why many green-energy people would like to harness waves to generate electricity. The menacing waves made it a struggle for me to remain asleep last night. It was like trying to sleep inside a tom-tom at a high school pep rally. The pre-bang sound starts with a swoosh, reminiscent of jet liner taking off. This must be water running along the side of the ship. Then there is a short delay, followed by an intense bang, as if the side of the ship had been struck with a giant sledgehammer. The entire hull vibrates like an off key xylophone bar. You’d think the engineers could have designed the ship at least to be in tune. I share my room with Matsurra San, a scientist from Japan. His English is not very strong and my Japanese even worse. It is difficult to communicate. I usually say, "How's it going" and Matsurra replies, "How's it going". It is a deep and wonderful conversation. We are on a ship only 274ft. long, but I barely see him. He works the late shift and his body is still attuned to Japan time. I am working the early shift and my body is still on Mountain Time. He is sleeping when I am working. I am working when he is sleeping. I am sure Matsurra and I would have a lot to share, and perhaps we could become good friends, but the language barrier hinders this progress. If he spoke English better, I am sure he would tell me how great a roommate I am, and that he thinks I am brilliant. Brilliant is a hard word to become comfortable using in the English language. I am sure this is why he does not tell it to me often.

Language is so important in communication. Fortunately for many of us monolingual Americans, the language of science has been established as English. Most scientists from other countries can read and write English well, and at least speak it well enough to communicate. Part of becoming a scientist in most countries outside the U.S. requires a person to become fluent in the English language, because many of the leading scientific journals publish in English. Matsurra can read and write well. It's just that the sounds are hard for him to discern when I speak. Maybe it's my Montana accent. I have had more success writing out what I am trying to convey. When Matsurra writes me something I help him by crossing off words like idiot and rewriting genius. It's rewarding helping him learn English a little better. I would encourage all young people to learn at least one language, and it would be better to know two. Being bilingual would open a whole new world of communication. Just think of all the things I could be learning if I could speak Japanese. Things like where to the find nearest McDonalds once arriving in Tokyo. I have read studies that say our brains are wired to learn language when we are young. When the brain stops maturing as an adult it becomes much more difficult to learn a new language. My advice, students, is to go learn a foreign language and open many more doors for a life of discovery.

We have made it to 14 degrees north latitude. It has been a busy day. We have already completed 2 MOC-1 tows, several hand tows over the starboard, a dive, and sent down the MOC-10. The weather is getting quite warm. I am sure it was in the 80’s today. The deck of the ship feels even warmer. Below, I have included some images of comb jellies collected from the blue water dives. Comb jellies are similar to true jellyfish, but lack stinging nematocysts, and have large macrocilia that they use for locomotion. These are the only multicellular metazoans to utilize cilia. In many species the macrocilia are associated with light producing organs along the 'comb row', the ridge from which the cilia protrude. They likely use their bioluminescence for defense. Comb jellies are predators of small animals, like copepods, and belong to a different phylum from the true jellyfish. True jellyfish belong in the phylum Cnidaria and comb jellies belong in the phylum Ctenophora. Some genetic evidence suggests comb jellies are more closely related to the flatworms, which include planaria, than true jellyfish. There are some species that are nearly flat and crawl along the benthos. Other evolutionary studies suggest that these animals are an early side branch of the metazoan phylogenetic tree. Comb jellies are mostly hermaphrodites and can self-fertilize. This may help them reproduce in the open ocean where finding a mate can be difficult. At times the number of comb jellies in a region can explode. The first sets of photographs below are images of a sexually reproducing species. Identifying which is the male and which is the female proves difficult. Some deep-water species can grow to be the size of a large beach ball.

Sea turtles prey upon these delicate marine creatures. The gelatinous parts of their bodies are made of mucousal polysaccharides. These jelly-like sugars are of nutritional value for their predators, which may include fish that bite off small pieces. The general term 'jellyfish' is often used to describe pelagic organisms that have tissue made of these gelatinous polysaccharrides. In the lab today, some of the jelly experts were collecting small copepods that were living symbiotically on the surface of these gelatinous beauties. Enjoy their delicate magnificence in the photos below. The photo captions are not informational in nature.

Daily question: What polysaccharide is found in the skeletons of insects, crustaceans, and arachnids?


Figure 1. "Macrocilia on Ctenophore".

Figure 2. "Jelly Whiskers".

Figure 3. "Globular Translucence".

Figure 4. "Electric Jelly".

Figure 5. "Sci-fi Jelly".

Figure 6. "Gelatinous Magic".

Figure 7. "3 Jelly Bells in a Jar".

Figure 8. "Flying Jelly".

Figure 9. "Jar of Jelly".

Figure 10. Sunset July 24, 2006 from the Ron H. Brown.

Figure 11. Sunset July 24, 2006 from the Ron H. Brown Goodnight!