From Text to Tactile

Timothy Dwyer

Part of the magic of Friday Harbor Labs is the chance to take your science out from the walls of a lecture hall and from under the fluorescent lights of a lab bench. A sunny strip of grass along the hillside recently became a classroom as Laura Newcomb, a PhD candidate in the Carrington Lab, knelt ringed by salty buckets of seawater and high school students from Spring Street International School. Young eyes were fixed on the digital display of a pH meter. In the warm sun photosynthesizing kelp slowly raised the pH of the seawater and new questions were raised alongside. This lesson is one in a series highlighting ocean acidification for SSIS’s AP Environmental Science class. The chance for students to work side-by-side with researchers transforming lessons from text to tactile is the manifestation of an ongoing relationship between FHL and SSIS.

PhD candidate Laura Newcomb (right) leads students in calibrating a pH probe. Photo credit: Tim Dwyer

Since SSIS’s founding in 1995, the 5th-12th grade day and boarding school has worked closely with FHL scientists and staff. FHL's Student Outreach Program has been involved with SSIS for 14 years now. In 2012, graduate student Aaron Galloway (since graduated from UW with his PhD) expanded the association by working in the school as an NSF GK-12 Fellow. Teaching several science classes, Aaron arranged seasonal access to FHL and procured sea table space, ran lessons on forest ecology in the terrestrial preserve, and gave scientific diving demonstrations. The partnership between FHL and SSIS takes a step forward this year, as the school earned status as an affiliated non-profit organization.

Recent FHL PhD Aaron Galloway (third from left) demonstrates tree survey techniques in the FHL terrestrial preserve. Photo credit: Tim Dwyer

For graduate students and FHL researchers, the frequent visits by SSIS classes provide opportunities to hone communication skills and convey research initiatives to aspiring future scientists. Opportunities to be involved continue each summer when SSIS’s Inland Ocean Studies Program relies on the expertise and enthusiasm of FHL researchers to frame general marine biology lessons in the context of cutting-edge research. Exceptional learning opportunities create exceptional enthusiasm, and the real winners are the SSIS students. As SSIS science teacher Sharon Massey remarks, “There aren’t many places where middle and high school students have this level of access to a world-class research institution.” One student, Meilin, will expand her experience in the FHL sunshine with a three-week internship in the seagrass lab of Dr. Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria.

To become involved as a research mentor, contact Timothy Dwyer ( For more information on Spring Street International School, visit