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Lost City Expedition: Mission

May 18, 2003 -- A Little Relaxation Goes A Long Way

Anthony Tarantino


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Today's Question

Q. How do the biologists preserve the samples they collected at Lost City?

A. Most of the samples that we bring on board are frozen whole. Frozen tissues are easier to extract DNA from at a later time than preserved tissues. Samples that are not frozen are preserved in either formalin or ethanol. Preservation in ethanol also allows for later extraction of DNA (though it doesn't work as well as with frozen tissues), but often any coloration that the animal has will be leached away by the ethanol. Sometimes it is important to have an animal keep its coloration in order to identify it more easily. Formalin preservation keeps the animals looking pretty much like they do in life. Often we will preserve the first specimen of a species that we collect in formalin as a voucher sample. Depending upon how the tissues are to be used later, different preservation techniques are used, but for us, formalin, ethanol or freezing works best.


Days on the Atlantis are filled with wonder and excitement, but today was even more special. Sub operations finished yesterday so I got to sleep until 0730 this morning, an extra two hours. You see, as the ET Section Leader it's my job to make sure the sub is electrically ready before every dive so that means my crack team of electronic techs and Pilots are awake at 0530 every dive day. We start at 0600 and finish when the sub is put to sleep, which is usually pretty late into the evening. That makes for some pretty long days, so now that we can sleep a little late it really feels good. There's another treat in store for tomorrow. The ship is transiting east across another time zone, so we'll be turning the clocks back and I'll be getting another extra hour of sleep. Joy! It's been a long cruise and everyone could use the opportunity to catch up on their Z's.

Mike and Giora snooze in the sun for a while, now that the dives are finished.

Since we're done diving almost everyone's daily routine has begun to change. People's attitudes are a bit more relaxed and you start noticing faces during the day that you normally have only seen lurking around in the middle of the night, as the night shift people readjust to working days. Senior scientists aren't fussing with samples fresh off Alvin's basket, so they use all their extra time siting in countless meetings recounting all the fine details that make the difference between just good science and great science. Even the foozball table is getting a little more attention and the competition at the Ping Pong table is heating up. Just a few games left till the Finals. I'd have to say the Captain is the big favorite this time.

Gavin helps to wash the sub while working on his tan.

As for the Alvin Group, we're busy as usual, getting our baby ready for our next job. We'll be doing 15 dives with Jess Adkins and his crew during a three week long cruise on seamounts with Caltech. Alvin Group keeps a pretty busy schedule, so to keep the sub in tip top shape we're constantly doing maintenance. We started our day like any typical Sunday and gave our vehicle a nice wash down. After lots of scrubbing and lots of suds we had ourselves one very clean Alvin. With that taken care of, we started our "Post Cruise" and "25 Dive" checks. These are just a small portion of the endless testing and documentation we're required to do to maintain our Navy certification. When we finish with that we'll be completely stripping all the Lost City-related science equipment and installing the next set of gear. The work never ends.

Alvin and Atlantis crew spend some well-deserved time off playing foozball.

There's still lots to do out here, so for now everyone's busy. There's only three days and a wake-up till Bermuda and a much deserved break so we're all pushing hard to finish strong. I'm sure the thought of pulling into Bermuda is keeping everyone going. The crew and Alvin group might only get a day off in port before we sail again, but we'll all make the most of it. Some will SCUBA dive, some might rent a scooter and cruise the Island, but me, I think I'll spend the day at Tobacco Bay thinking about other things besides the Atlantis for a change.