Why I'm Building a DIY Science Lab

Posted by Megan McCuller


I, like many others, went through school wondering when I was going to use a lot of the information I was being taught. I didn’t know how it all fit together. I would say to myself, “Ok, I get that biochemistry is the study of the chemistry of life, but I’m not getting the big picture, only pieces of information.” Similarly, “When am I ever going to use statistics in my everyday life?”

I knew all the facts, but I didn’t know the big picture, how this amalgamation of stuff all worked together. We were taught to test, which is essentially a factory assembly line of facts. You go from one fact to the next without “zooming out” and seeing the big picture. Kind of like an actor who does all of his own scenes, but never sees the entire movie.

This was a struggle throughout school for me and, in fact, made me unsure if I wanted to go to school another two to three years to receive my Master’s degree. But in the end, I did, and the process of going through grad school changed my life. Suddenly, I was doing science instead of just being lectured about it. Suddenly, I was a part of research projects and I knew how science really worked and how what I was doing helped something greater. I realized that the undergraduate students I taught seemed to learn so much better when actually conducting small experiments and how the children I encountered during my thesis project wanted to know what I was doing with my big orange bucket and bags full of specimens.


Animals growing on the underside of a bumper float

So now a new dilemma – Do I continue on to get a PhD?

I’ve become good friends with an amazing man who is very well known in my field. He tells me, “Megan, if you want to be known in the field, a PhD is the way to go. You don’t have to go into academia, but without the title, you will be overlooked and the credit will be given to those who are above you. You are smart and have a good eye and I want to see you succeed. The best path for that is getting that higher degree.”

That sounds harsh, but that’s the real world of science. And I don’t like it. Scientists should be recognized for the work they’re doing whether they are called Dr. or not.

So here it is – I suppose I am “fighting the man” or whatever you want to call it. I want to make a community laboratory where ANYONE can come to do ecological research. I want to make a place where kids can get hands-on experiences with the scientific process, where they can think of a project, collect their own data, and figure out what the data means. I want to get people excited about science! And I want to get people more invested in the Gulf of Maine, a locally important resource. It's where I did my first independent research. It's where I learned how important each organism has its own place and losing or gaining different animals means sudden changes in the entire system. It's where I learned how to dive in a drysuit and where I saw my first basket star. It's also where I have found a couple of unique species which only experts in my field will probably appreciate. I want to get that passion out to the public and help others get excited about the Gulf of Maine just as I am.

Citizens have the opportunity to study any number of things that still need researching in the Gulf of Maine. One such question is: “What is the best way of commercializing the invasive green crab?” Another, more long-term question is, “How are fouling communities (communities of animals living on man-made structures) changing over time and what contributes to those changes?”


Invasive crab in a mussel shell

As a recent graduate, I have little ability to fund such an idea on my own so I have turned to crowdsourcing to help me rent and stock a laboratory space. I have until 2 days before Christmas to reach the $10k tipping point ($25k ultimate goal) of my Equip the Marine Science Lab campaign on StartSomeGood.com. The lab will be stocked with all the necessary equipment to conduct marine ecological research such as:

-       Microscopes and light sources

-       Buckets, bags, dishpans, and glassware

-       Forceps, pipettes, teasing needles, etc.

-       Calipers and tape measures

-       Plankton tow nets and sieves

-       Tanks, filters, and chillers for holding specimens and conducting controlled experiments

-       Projector and screen and other tools to assist in education

The ultimate goal of the lab is to show how important citizen science and hands-on education in teaching science really is. Hopefully, more and more facilities will be opened allowing the general public to come and do research, which will not only increase the interest in STEM, but also make each of these communities more invested in the protection and conservation of local resources.

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This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.

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