Indiana State University Newsroom

Sycamores take to the seas for hands-on learning

November 18, 2014

Three Indiana State University students -- one of whom is a first-semester freshman -- jetted to San Diego recently to get an up-close look at oceanographic research and specimen collection from some of the world's experts.

Underclassmen Matt Bly and Chris Lane joined graduate student Ryan Venturelli for a research cruise and more at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"I've always wanted to go out to the West Coast," said Lane, a junior from Scottsburg who transferred to Indiana State this semester. "Being an environmental science major, the West Coast has a lot of stuff -- redwood trees, nice parks and stuff out there. I don't get to travel that much. I was a great opportunity. I'm glad I got to go."

It was also Lane's first airplane trip. "At first, it was a little scary. On the way back, I was a pro," he said.
Tony Rathburn, professor of geology at Indiana State, has long-standing ties with Scripps and made all the arrangements for his students.

"Everyone made us feel right at home. That's the coolest thing about Scripps. It's one of the best oceanographic institutions in the world, and they're still so welcoming to students from Indiana who want to learn more about the ocean," Venturelli said.

It was the students at Scripps, however, who were impressed by the opportunities afforded to the Indiana State students.

"I was talking to the graduate students on the cruise, and they were all surprised that undergrads -- especially a freshman -- got to go (on the trip). I just got lucky, I guess," said Bly, a freshman from Towanda, Ill. "It was an awesome opportunity."

Lane received a similar reaction from Scripps' scholars: "We were with a bunch of graduate students on the cruise. They kept telling us, ‘You guys are undergrads? And you get to do this? You're so lucky.' It was really awesome."

The students arrived mid-morning Friday, Oct. 31 and made their way to the Birch Aquarium, where they toured "awesome" displays of marine ecosystems.

"We got there just in time for them to feed the inhabitants of the touch pools," Venturelli said. "They were actually feeding (the animals) in the tide pools. We got to see all the things that were hiding -- the crabs and the lobsters."

Saturday, they spent the day on the cruise, learning how to deploy a CTD -- an instrument measuring conductivity, temperature and depth, as well as salinity and oxygen levels -- and witnessed a plankton tow and then got to examine the creatures gathered.

The CTD instrument was especially meaningful for Venturelli.

"I can understand what all those profiles mean when I read a paper. It makes a lot more sense when I can see it happen," she said.

They also saw how a multi-core instrument extracts sediments without disrupting the surface of the sample and looked at the sediments and organisms living in the samples.

"This (state-of-the-art instrument) quietly takes samples," Venturelli said. "You can get a really good picture of what's happening right at the top of the sediment, where sediment and bottom water meet, as well as what's going on in the subsurface."

And an otter trawl -- a favorite of many biologists -- picked up creatures living near the bottom of the ocean, such as California king crab, flat fish and sea urchins, for the students to survey.

"It was a really great experience to learn from professors at Scripps, because they have been doing these student cruises -- students from Indiana don't usually get those experiences," Venturelli said. "So, it's really cool to have the opportunity to go to sea, but also to have the opportunity to go out and learn from professors who aren't at your institution. That gives students a whole new perspective."

On Sunday, the guys went kayaking and snorkeling in the marine kelp forest while Venturelli caught up on some of her grad school reading.

"I just hung out on the beach and read papers and worked on some projects that I'm doing for my classes," Venturelli said. "It was really nice to work on ocean research near the ocean."

On Monday, Lane and Bly toured Scripps' sediment core and microfossil collection, while Venturelli met with a professor she's hoping to work with for her doctorate.

"I have to say all of it (was my favorite part), but I really enjoyed ... the core facility," Lane said.

Since the trip, Lane is now considering graduate school, but he's not sure what he'd like to do - maybe work on a research boat or teach.

"Before (the trip), I was slacking off on my school work, kind of," Lane said. "I wasn't very sure about going to graduate school; I was scared of the idea. It is a lot of work, but if you like what you do and the research you're doing, it's worth it. That's what they said. It's a lot of work, but it's fun, too."

The world is definitely his oyster.

"We were on the boat for eight hours, so all the graduate students (from Scripps) were telling us stuff -- where they're from, what they're researching. It really opened my eyes," Lane said. "I'm really thankful that Indiana State and the Earth science program gave me this opportunity in my first semester at Indiana State."

Bly, who is just finishing the first semester of his college career, said he already has an edge on his classmates because of the trip.

"I feel like I have a head start, because I'm getting really interested in what we're doing," Bly said. "I know what kind of classes I want to take, and I know ... I want to be as smart as Ryan, because all the grad students in (Rathburn's) lab have a really strong passion (for their research)."

Venturelli had been to Scripps before and hopes to teach at a university some day. She enjoyed seeing an awakening in her fellow Sycamores.

"For me, one of the best things about the trip was being able to see that moment of realization in Matt and Chris -- that they realized they are doing something really cool with their lives," she said. "It's really an awesome opportunity for undergrads to take this trip, because it not only opens their eyes to another whole world of science and field work, but it also helps them prioritize things."


Photos: -- Indiana State students Chris Lane, Ryan Venturelli and Matt Bly pose for a picture aboard the R/V Robert Gordon Sproul, a Scripps research vessel, off the California coast. -- Indiana State students Chris Lane and Matt Bly reach into the touch tanks at the Birch Aquarium in San Diego. -- Indiana State graduate student Ryan Venturelli holds a sediment sample while aboard a Scripps research vessel off the California coast. -- Indiana State students Chris Lane and Matt Bly look at fish and kelp at the Birch Aquarium in San Diego before experiencing this ecosystem first-hand while snorkeling off the coast.

Contact: Tony Rathburn, professor of geology at Indiana State, 812-237-2269 or

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or