Science Communication at Sea

(photo credit and illustration: Sarah Kachovich)

“Who is your audience?” and “What are you trying to say?” Two questions my college professors drilled into my mind to consider when starting any scientific illustration project. Now, the students here on Expedition 385T will get an introduction to science communication and are tasked with mulling these questions over in order to develop a visual piece of their own. Over the last few days, the Outreach Team (Randi Brennon, Kristen Weiss, and myself) have presented our past work for inspirational fodder.

Randi, a formal educator, will work with a group of students to create a ship-to-shore broadcast experience. Randi will guide her group in connecting students and community groups with research scientists.  She will work with them to prepare materials for the broadcasts, conduct live interviews with scientists and crew aboard the JR, and “take” community groups on a video tour of the ship. This is a great opportunity to experience the bridge between real world research and education. By the end of the expedition, the group of students she is working with will have a recorded tour explaining the science on board the JOIDES to share with communities back home.

Kristen, who produced a series of vlogs while sailing on Expedition 366, will work with a group of students to teach video editing using an iphone and free editing programs to have a final product by the end of the 4 weeks. She will teach the students the basics of science video-making from start to finish. From developing the story and defining the target audience, to filming and editing, Kristen will guide the group through the steps of making a simple but engaging video.

With my background in scientific illustration, I will be working with a group to design a 2D piece such as an infographic. Yesterday was my first chance to sit down with my 4 students to see what topics they were interested in, what their drawing skill/comfort level is, and what they might like to create in the end. Alonda, who is studying environmental sustainability back home, and who loves to write first-person style poetry has decided to create a poem as if she were a plastic bag stuck in the ocean. Amanda will create an infographic poster on microfossils. The illustration will show how fossils fall down to the seafloor and will feature an inset of a specific species with captions and arrows to lead the viewer through the content. Ingrid, who is studying ocean engineering, will work with Geoff Wheat to make an illustration of the instrument he plans to use in site 504B. The illustration will highlight the inner workings and “trigger” mechanisms necessary to make the instrument work. And finally, Theo, a highly creative soul, wants to make a comic panel explaining seafloor spreading using a sandwich as a demonstrative.

In addition to these science communication projects, I am also teaching a “Watercolor Wednesday” class. Last night was the first session where the students (and instructors!) got a chance to observe the materials, practiced making different brush stroke styles, learned the basics of color theory by making a color wheel and blending secondary colors only using primary ones.

We walked onto the ship already having 2 full days of field trips. And with any expedition, the first few days are filled with presentations and orientations – enough to leave your head spinning with information overload. It was such a joy to see these students relax a bit and have fun painting. It was also really great to see the students let go of their ‘perfectionism.’ The students started the class saying “I’m terrible at painting!” and “I’ve never done this before!” and by the end of the session they were so proud of themselves with what they could accomplish. I’m excited to see how their skills develop.

It was also really nice to give the two super-star instructors (Leah and Kaatje) a break for a few hours. I think they were ready to have some laughs. The giggle-fit in this photo went as followed:

Me: “Do you remember how to make secondary colors?”

Kaatje: (with the confidence of a know-it-all third grader) “Blue and red make green!”

Me: ”…uh…almost, but no…”


With 3 more Watercolor Wednesdays on the schedule, there will be plenty more giggle-fits to follow.

N Kurtz
Outreach Manager
More articles by: N Kurtz

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