MIT Museum's Nautical Day Celebrates Oceanography

Sarah Beth Campisi's picture

In Cambridge, the month of April means scientific workshops, presentations and questions. April 13-22 was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum’s Cambridge Science Festival, in collaboration with the city of Cambridge, and other businesses and organizations in the area. Free and ticketed events were open to the public throughout the week, including Nautical Day at the MIT Museum on April 20.

Scientists from oceanographic, ocean-focused organizations and MIT presented a range of exhibits to teach museum patrons about the ocean, and the planet as a whole. Experts set their tables up against the backdrop of the Robots and Beyond: Exploring Artificial Intelligence exhibit.

Yasmin Chau, a PhD student at MIT, demonstrated a process called paper chromatography, using mashed up blueberries and blackberries, and coffee filters, to separate the molecules that make the berries’ juices the colors that they are.

By coating a scrap of coffee filter paper in the fruit mash, and suspending it in a plastic cup of isopropyl alcohol, Chau can display how different fruit interacts with the isopropyl alcohol.

“The idea is that the coffee filter paper is hydrophilic, or water-loving, so it likes things that are also water-loving, whereas the isopropyl alcohol is a little more fat-loving. As the fatty-loving alcohol travels up the coffee filter, the fruits that are also fat-loving will travel up with it, but the water-loving fruit will stay in the same place.”

The hands-on activity attracted younger children, eager to mash some fruit.

“It’s a nice break from doing science,” Chau said. “It reminds me of back in the day when science was fun.”

Ren Bettencourt was present with Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Program, a Boston nonprofit that uses the arts to build the next generation of ocean-advocates. Bettencourt advertised the organization’s art contest where children are encouraged to create art that relates to a particular ocean issue; this year’s theme is climate change. They also hold a creative advocacy competition, which asks children to consider plastic pollution in oceans and think of a creative way to solve the problem. The art contest is international, while the advocacy competition takes entries from all over the U.S.

Bettencourt oversaw an art activity that was a modified version of “Gyotaku,” traditional Japanese fish printing. Before cameras, Japanese fishermen would paint on the fish they caught to record the size and species.

“We have young kids who like to do some of the art activities, and as they get older we can talk to them about some of the issues,” Bettencourt said. “As kids get older we can talk to them a little bit about sustainable fishing, and the issue of overfishing, and thinking about supporting fishermen who use more traditional, sustainable practices.”

Kurt Hasselbalch, curator of MIT’s Hart-Nautical Collection, stepped in for the event to give a demonstration on nautical knots and their specific uses.

“We care a lot about our local audiences,” Hasselbalch said, “and we would like our local audiences to come into the museum more than they have. The museum statistics show that we actually have a large percent of visitors that are first time visitors, so we would love to increase that number of local and regional visitors. We’re here to serve the public. That’s what we strive to do, but we strive to be open and accessible to everyone.”