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BOP Schools and Citizen Science Partner Spotlight: Bob Newton

By Heather Flanagan
April 22, 2016

Billion Oyster Project Curriculum and Community Enterprise for Restoration Science (BOP-CCERS) is a community of students and teachers, professional scientists and citizen scientist volunteers, schools, universities, businesses, and community organizations, all working together to conduct oyster restoration-based scientific research in New York Harbor.  BOP-CCERS is funded through a three-year educational research grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings.

Part of what’s so exciting about the BOP-CCERS project is that NYC’s public school students are getting access to some of the city’s best and most enthusiastic scientists, educators, and youth development professionals.  We’ll be introducing you to the people who are making it happen in our Partner Spotlight series.  Today, we’re getting to know Bob Newton, Research Scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

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What’s your job?  What do you spend your day doing?  How did you end up doing that work?
I’m a Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.  I help to run a lab where we measure isotopes of water and gases dissolved in water — both ocean water and continental waters.  In the ocean, we use measurements like these to unravel circulation patterns and measure how long it takes for water to transit from one part of the ocean to another.  Recently, I’ve also been doing some research on sea ice formation, melting and transport patterns.  

I spend my time doing three sorts of things: scientific research, education, and writing grant proposals.  My research mostly involves working at a computer: analyzing data, writing computer software, or writing manuscripts.  My educational work is mainly teaching science teachers, developing curriculum, or mentoring high school students.  Like a growing number of academics, my work is “grant driven,” which means that we have to raise the money to do it.  That mainly involves writing proposals to federal agencies like the National Science Foundation or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.  

What’s your role in this project?
I’m the “co-Principal Investigator” responsible for the science team.  That mainly means that I coordinate between the scientists and the rest of the project to make sure that the science content of the curriculum is sound.  Together Matt Palmer, Elisa Bone, Mollie Thurman and I have had a lot to do with the field protocols, the species guides, the Fellowship curriculum, and the capstone projects being shown at the end-of-year Symposium.  We’ve also helped to define the requirements for the data application and the digital platform.

What got you interested in the Billion Oyster Project?
I’ve worked on several projects over the last decade getting young students and science teachers out onto the water or into wetlands to do field science.  Through that work I’ve been helping the Harbor School with some of their observations for a long time.  

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What are you most excited about?
In the BOP, the thing that excites me most is getting kids down to the water and having them make real measurements.  I think that learning about the harbor, the city, and our local ecology from your own measurements is very, very cool.

What’s your favorite waterfront spot?  Why?
I love the area under the George Washington Bridge.  Not sure why.  I think the geometry of the bridge and the land there- the way you can see both up the valley and down towards the Battery, and the Little Red Lighthouse, the way you can get out on the rocks and down to the water … all of that is just very beautiful to me.  It’s a great place to just sit and space out and let your mind wander.  

What advice do you have for young scientists (i.e. the middle school children this project is serving)?
Get a real job!  No… just kidding.

Take your time.  Don’t worry about getting everything done.  Don’t worry about getting to the end.  Just calm down and let yourself enjoy the process of investigating something you’re curious about.  Let yourself “sink into” a place or a topic or a way to measure something.  The devil may be in the details … but so is God.

Interested in reading more about BOP-CCERS and how we’re bringing hands-on restoration science to classrooms all over the city?  Sign up for our newsletter and click here to read all BOP-CCERS posts!