Friday, March 26, 2010

A biology lab travelling on the oceans.

This is a photograph of the boat Tara Oceans on which I happened to land today by an absolute stroke of luck. 

I generally don't blog about some particular incident but almost always about an assimilation of ideas from a string of events in life. But this time I am going to change this pattern for this unique case. 

It was my first experience of meeting and interacting with an international scientific expedition group. This is very different from the life of a regular scientist. Of course I also heard accounts from these scientists of meeting with pirates near Somalia and how the French Army escorted them when while they were passing the gulfs near Arabia.

Basically this is a small sail boat on which a bunch of French and German biologists (mainly from University of Heidelberg and EMBL)are traveling around the world looking at the distribution of organisms (especially photo-plankton) around the oceans of the world. This will be a path breaking experiment which will do a comprehensive study of the effect of the human civilization on marine life. Remember that half of the oxygen that we breathe comes from the planktons in the ocean. We wouldn't be there without the oceans.

Ofcourse these sientists pointed out that world population crossed the maximal sustainable limit of nature around the 1980s! So the planet having to support a population so much in excess of its upper limit is straining the ecosystem of the oceans to dangerous limits. And this is much more fragile than the one on the lithosphere.

It is a 3-year program during which these people will travel around the globe's coasts sampling the data. Anybody familiar with biology would know that doing on-line analysis of organisms in a solution is near impossible. But precisely thats what these scientists are doing on board continuously using their very sophisticated instruments. To get a feel of the technology remember that to do microscopy one almost always needs a completely disturbance free region. Ocean waves 100 meters away from a microscope on land can be fatal to the experiement. Now comare that these people are able to do amazing levels of microscopy while traveling on the oceans! 

This team arrived in Mumbai today and their next stop will be Malaya and then to the Antarctica. The lead scientists landed up in TIFR to give a talk about it and I happened to be in that talk. I was supposed to go to my class on cosmology after that talk but then the cosmology prof (Alak Ray)  came and told me with a cheeky smile that he is cancelling the class since he is goin aboard Tara Oceans. It took some minutes for this information to sink in. And then I realized that the biology department has organized a trip for lottery selected 40 students from their department to this amazing floating travelling laboratory. First thing I was told was that I am not allowed to tag along. My cosmology prof was somehow the only non-biology person to be specially invited to the trip.

And the TIFR bus left at 5:30Pm with those few lucky biology students in it.

But then its me the desperado and I wasn't the one to sit around taking that. I came to know that at 6Pm the speed boat would leave from the Gateway of India heading towards this ship. And it was already 5:40Pm. On the spur of the moment I just packed in my camera and left with a friend of mine from the neutrino physics department. I asked the taxi to drive to the Gateway as fast as he could. But even on reaching there we couldn't figure out from where the boat was leaving. And almost when we were planning to come back,I spoted the TIFR biology crowd in an obscure corner. And I also spotted the biologist with whom I had recently done a biology project

And I hung around as the Tara Oceans sent in speed boats to take the bio people to the ship. After sunset when the last boat arrived, I jumped in. And I didn't regret it. 

Since I was in the last batch to arrive on the boat we got a longer time to move around and see this floating laboratory. And the German scientists were more than happy to show us around and explain stuff.

I am pasting below photo of this awesome sailing on the oceans molecular biology laboratory that I saw.

 One of the scientists (most probably German) explaining this crucial machine that goes down into the waters to collect samples. It can typically go inside for about 120m though they can in principle send it down for 2000m
This is where they purify the ocean water to extract out the organisms from it which is the ultimate objective of study.

This is the entrance to the kitchen and the bedroom and the living-room and the microscopy room of this floating molecular biology laboratory.
The kitchen. These French and German scientists have learnt to cook Biriyani.

A closer look at the capsule that goes underwater

The living room and library of scientists floating around the oceans. It is in the lower deck.

The store-room for the scientific apparatus and food supplies.

The other end of the kitchen with the fruit supplies hanging from the top in the net.

The scientists in front of the control room on the uppermost deck 

Unfortunately  blogger doesn't give me a method of uploading the videos I shot of the descriptive talks that the leader of Tara Oceans gave to us on board.


Abhisairama Reddy said...

Very nice...

snowprincess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
snowprincess said...

Today morning,I was searching for Manjul Bhargava and eventually found your blog.This post seems interesting,so I searched for your homepage.Since then I have read your papers and lectures from your TIFR home page.Reading about the works and achievement of someone who is nearly of my age become an inspiration for me.Wish you all the best for the forthcoming adventures in your life and research.

Anirbit said...


Thanks for your efforts in finding out about my life.

But there is nothing that one can find out about who you are since your profile link doesn't work :)

snowprincess said...

Well, due to some reason in past I had to change my blog privacy settings. Later I forgot to remove that.Thanks for pointing out..

Anirbit said...


Good to know that my life can encourage someone.
Makes life a little more worth living.

You had sent me the message using this weird Orkut message system and I had a hard time figuring out where this mail is. Orkut just flashed this message once and disappeared. I had to rake up my GMail filters to find it out.

Life would have been easier had you sent the mail as a comment on my blog or an email to my id.

snowprincess said...

I am really sorry for making the matter complicated for you.

Satyajay said...

Are you talking of a biology lab that is built on a Kaba(a vehicle which moves as a bus on road with its 4 wheels and folds them when it has to get down on water to move like a boat)

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