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Story of Impact: Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

by Mary Erin Casale
This case study is part of MANP’s Stories of Impact series highlighting the many ways Maine’s nonprofits are essential to a strong and healthy Maine.  

The Impact

Bigelow Labs Logo

Deepening our understanding of the ocean and marine life — right down to the hundreds of thousands of microscopic organisms in every drop of seawater — is vital to Maine’s economy, especially at a time of global climate change.

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and its team of 85 scientists and staff have attracted more than $100 million in federal grants and private donations to help unravel the ocean’s many mysteries, surmount natural and man-made threats to its health, and tap its unrealized economic, nutritional, and pharmaceutical potential.

Since its founding more than four decades ago, the Laboratory has:

  • Conducted pioneering research on topics including improving aquafarming, tracking the rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine, and collecting and studying thousands of strains of marine microorganisms — publishing their research in global scientific journals at an astonishing rate of one paper every 10 days.
  • Trained more than 1,000 professionals, teachers, Maine high school juniors, and undergraduate students from across the country through in-depth, hands-on educational experiences.
  • Partnered with dozens of academic, industrial, and governmental organizations to put its research findings to practical use.
  • Built a brand new, 60,000-square foot, LEED Platinum, state-of-the-art research and education facility on the Damariscotta River in East Boothbay.

Through these actions and more, Bigelow Laboratory continues to help advance Maine’s economy and develop a better understanding of the complex ocean processes that power our planet.

The Story Behind the Impact

p1090751Founded in 1974, the Laboratory was named after renowned oceanographer Henry Bryant Bigelow, founding director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. His many expeditions during the first half of the 20th century made the Gulf of Maine among the most closely studied bodies of water of its size in the world.

In December 2012, the Laboratory opened its Ocean Science and Education Campus in East Boothbay, after spending nearly 40 years in West Boothbay Harbor. In 2016, the Laboratory launched two Centers for Venture Research, each designed to turn knowledge into action by matching the expertise of its scientists with policymakers, the private sector, and members of the public to tackle issues of critical economic and environmental importance. The focuses of the two new centers are Seafood Security and the Opening Arctic Ocean.

Education and raising public awareness are key to the Laboratory’s mission, especially in regard to the critical role marine microbes play in global processes. While invisible to the naked eye, these organisms produce half the oxygen we breath, form the base of the entire marine food chain, have a significant impact on global climate, weather, and carbon cycles, and hold the potential for discoveries of new drugs, nutritional supplements, and fuel sources.

Educating Maine’s future STEM experts

Each year, scientists at the Laboratory provide a variety of programs for Maine students with an interest in marine science careers. The Laboratory hosts a 10-week, National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, which is open to undergraduates from around the United States. It also offers professional development workshops for Maine high school science teachers to help them integrate ocean science into existing curricula. The Maureen D. Keller Undergraduate Scholarship is awarded annually to Maine students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in earth or biological sciences. With a residence hall under construction and set to be completed in February 2017, Bigelow Laboratory will be able to offer an even more robust learning experience to students of all ages.

The Laboratory’s annual Keller BLOOM (Bigelow Laboratory Orders Of Magnitude) program provides 16 high school students — one from each county in Maine — a chance to work side-by- side with scientists on a research cruise on the Sheepscot River estuary. The students learn sampling and data collection methods, which they put into practice using oceanographic equipment. They also spend time working with scientists in the lab and present on their overall research experience to family, friends, and Laboratory staff. Students who participate in the Keller BLOOM program leave with a better understanding of ocean science and of the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue a STEM career.

The program has reached 432 future scientists and marine enthusiasts. A 2011 assessment of the program by Repa and Associates found that 100 percent of the students who attend the Keller BLOOM program graduated from both high school and college. Seventy percent of the students pursued STEM studies and more then half select a STEM career. Perhaps most importantly, 100 percent of alumni polled have a lasting, positive impression of the program, with many citing its pivotal influence on their academic paths and careers.

To learn more about Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, please visit their website at www.bigelow.org.

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