July 31, 2012

Students Return from “Trip of a Lifetime” in Australia

Students Return from “Trip of a Lifetime” in Australia

Maybe it was the vibrant colors of the samples they collected along the Australian shoreline or walking past a giant python basking in the sun as it digested its latest meal. Maybe it was wading to the shore of the remote island research station located on the Great Barrier Reef, snorkeling among sea turtles and giant clam gardens, or witnessing a rare view above a rainforest's canopy.

Maybe it was these things and more that made the students realize: This was not your typical research experience.

The group of 10 Emmanuel students traveled Down Under for three weeks in June and July as part of the inaugural "Microbiology on the Great Barrier Reef" travel course led by Professor of Biochemistry Paul March. The course represented the first within the sciences with a travel component and operated in partnership with James Cook University, which provided Dr. March and his students with residence, classroom and laboratory space during their stay.

Students conducted research in the field along the Great Barrier Reef, surveying the marine environment and examining the different bacteria that exist along the coastline, in the ocean, at coral reefs and more. During the spring semester, Dr. March taught basic marine biology techniques for the introductory microbiology course, enabling the group to make the most of its time in the field.


"In class we mimicked conditions we thought we could expect to see in Australia, setting up controls for factors like less sunlight since it's their winter there," said Dylan Hillsburg '13. "Then while there, we took samples from the environment and brought it into the lab, which was a whole new dynamic for me. It made it seem more real."

In addition to their field research at Yule Point, the group spent three nights on Orpheus Island, located within the Palm Island Group on the Great Barrier Reef, where James Cook University maintains a research station and educational facility. The island offered an "outward-bound experience" according to Dr. March, as there were no streets or docks and rainwater served as the island's water supply. He said while some students were initially wary of being out of their comfort zone, they were soon won over by the island's beauty and simplicity and the opportunity to conduct research at such a unique location.

"The lab is something you can't access as a tourist only as a researcher," said Dr. March. "It attracts researchers from around the world."

During the stay, the group took part in a number of excursions around Australia, including a trip to the top of the rainforest's canopy via a 17-story crane, learning to throw boomerangs and spears at Tjapukai aboriginal cultural park, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and a visit to the Cockatoo Island for its biannual art festival.

"It was better than anything I could have imagined," said Dr. March, a U.S. and Australia dual citizen. "The students said it was the most amazing experience they had ever had. For me, it was at that level as well."

To view additional photos from the trip, click here.