Bigelow celebrates 25 years of BLOOM

Posted:  Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - 9:00am
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For the past 25 years, Bigelow Labs has introduced high school juniors to the world of marine science through the Keller BLOOM (Bigelow Laboratory Orders Of Magnitude) program. This year's program took place May 18-22.

The goal of the program is to select one student from each of the 16 Maine counties. The program is open to all students, public, private, or home schooled.

On July 29, Dr. Thomas Keller led a Cafe Scientifique program at the Opera House celebrating 25 years of the program. Keller is the co-director of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance and executive director of the Maine STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Council. He is also the husband of the late Dr. Maureen Keller, who died in 1999, and was one of the founders of the program. The program was renamed Keller BLOOM in her honor.

The students become totally immersed in the science,” Keller said. “They collect samples, sort the data, and make their presentations in front of some of the world's best oceanographers.”

The program began in 1989 when Keller and Dr. Clarice Yentsch got together with Jim McLoughlin, a trustee of Bigelow Labs, with the idea of bringing a group of students to the lab every year to introduce them to the world of marine science. The program would help them understand the ocean and give them the chance to work alongside leading scientists in the field, not just learning through lecture and observation, but through doing and active participation.

The only costs to the students are in travel, to get to and from the lab. All other costs are footed by the program through local funding. Over the past 25 years, more than 400 Maine high schoolers have participated in the program.

During the cafe, two former Keller BLOOM students spoke about their experiences, Dr. Leanne Whitney and Bryer Bragdon. Whitney, who came from Machias, was always interested in science.

“My biology teacher announced the program was accepting applications, and she pulled me aside and suggested I apply. I did and was accepted, and realized for the first time that marine science was an accessible option for a career,” Whitney said. “I went on the get my bachelor’s in marine science, and got my Ph.D. in molecular biology. In 2013 I joined Bigelow as a scientist.”

Bragdon, who participated in Keller BLOOM in 2012, said his path changed because of the program.

“It's not watered-down science, it's real,” Bragdon said. “I was always interested in marine life, I grew up on the water and went to the beach almost every day. My first words were “loba cap,” I was trying to say lobster trap. At BLOOM I learned about what the tiny animals do at a microscopic level, and it was fascinating.”

For more information on Bigelow Labs or the Keller BLOOM program, call Valerie Young at 207-315-2567, ext.107, or email vyoung@bigelow.org.