This photo essay-letter was created on board the Exploration Vessel Nautilus during the 2018 Lōihi Seamount Expedition, a joint project between Ocean Exploration Trust, NASA, NOAA, and a number of academic institutions. The mission used this underwater volcano off the coast of Hawai`i as an analog for future space exploration to distant ocean worlds. Click on photo captions to scroll through the images and read more detailed bios of these phenomenal women working in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math fields.
Dear 2nd Graders,
I really enjoyed speaking with your class this morning. It is always fun to tell people about the work we are doing on board the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus, a 211-foot science vessel outfitted for exploring the ocean floor with robots and studying what is happening in our planet’s ocean.
After we ended our talk with you, one of your comments stuck with me. Your teacher asked me to speak about what girls do on our ship, adding that you all thought only boys could be engineers and that made me a little sad.
As a matter of fact, I couldn’t sleep for quite some time even though it was 4:30 in the morning here off the coast of Hawai`i. But, I woke up with a plan: I’d gather all the girls on our ship (there are a lot of us) and take a photo for you. I thought maybe if you saw how many girls are out here doing exciting work, you might start to see how many important things get done by both boys and girls.
But there was one really big problem…
All the girls working on the Nautilus are very, very busy. Eighteen members of the 31-person science team on the Nautilus are women. We serve in all roles — from engineering to communications, from the very highest leadership position down to our student interns. There is no place on the Nautilus where women do not work incredibly hard.
I went to the back deck of the ship where Wendy, Jess, and Antonella were busy repairing our robots, Hercules and Argus. Without these robots, (we also call them remotely operated vehicles or ROVs) we wouldn’t be able to travel to the ocean floor to learn about volcanoes, octopuses, sharks, and creatures no one has ever seen before. As ROV pilots, a big part of their job is maintaining and fixing the ROVs – Wendy, Jess, and Antonella are engineers, so they are really good at what they do!
I ducked around the corner and up the stairs, following Mary and Nicole, but it turned out they were busy too. A camera needed fixing, and as video engineers, they needed to tackle the job. Cameras are very important to the work happening on the Nautilus; they are like eyes on the robots and they help the pilots to safely move around; cameras also record all the amazing images from places humans can’t safely go. As a retired journalist and video engineer, Mary has lots of experience to help guide and train Nicole who just graduated from college.
Our science data team — Leigh and Megan were also quite busy. They spent part of the afternoon brainstorming how to manage the thousands of images and samples being gathered with each dive, and they met with expedition leaders to share their ideas about how to do even more with the limited space available for so many scientists on the ship.
Then, I went to the wet lab, but another member of the science data team, Brianna, was busy organizing the equipment the science team uses after Hercules collects those samples and brings them back to the ship; one of her jobs is to prepare those specimens for scientists all over the country to study back on dry land.
I ran over to the social deck, just in time to see Elizabeth rushing off to her lab. She had to place a bottle of seawater in an incubator, which is like a small oven. She wanted to test how long it will take her to process the samples Hercules will bring up to the ship from the volcano.
I was sure I’d be able to wrangle Sam and Nicole, but as part of the leadership responsible for the success of this and future expeditions, they were busy coordinating the hundreds of items that need addressing each day.
Speaking of the people who help this ship run smoothly, Thais and Martyna are officers in charge of running the ship so all this amazing science can happen. Today, Martyna took a crew out on a small boat to inspect the hull, and Thais makes sure everyone on the ship is safe at all times.
My friends Ariel and Mugdha were also busy, shooting video to help tell the story of science, ocean exploration, and marvelous feats of engineering.
Even I had to stop and take a break from writing this letter to you; Amy and I were needed in the studio where you saw us this morning. We had to talk to a group of people gathered at a museum in San Francisco – we showed them pictures and answered their questions just as we answered yours.
My last stop on this adventure was the lounge where Darlene was sitting at her laptop on a big leather sofa. As principle investigator for this project, her days are really long – she’s working even when she looks like she might be relaxing. When I found her, she was getting ready to go on NASA TV and talk about the work we are doing; two million people tuned in to watch her today!
I’m writing this letter because I’d hate to think that there are any young girls in your class who think it isn’t cool or possible for them to build robots or rockets, and I’d hate to think that there are boys who think they shouldn’t do the thing they dream about doing, whatever it may be.
And, if you don’t want to be a scientist or engineer, but you love the sea creatures — if you dream about what it might be like explore the ocean, I have a secret for you: not everyone involved studying the ocean is a scientist or engineer. I’m a writer. My job is telling true stories about this work so people can better understand the world we live in. Folks like me — anthropologists, painters, teachers, filmmakers, chefs, and all sorts of people play a big part, making amazing things happen every day for organizations like the Nautilus!
Thanks for asking us such smart questions. I hope you will stay curious, have fun and keep exploring!
Jenny Woodman, Proteus founder and executive director, is a science writer and educator living in the Pacific Northwest; she is a 2018 lead science communication fellow on board the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. In 2016, she wrote her masters thesis on women in STEAM and continues to explore this topic in her work. Follow her on Twitter @JennyWoodman.
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