Bigelow Laboratory celebrates 40th anniversary

Posted:  Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - 6:00pm
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On Friday, June 27, staff and guests celebrated the 40th anniversary of Bigelow Labs at the East Boothbay campus. According to Communications Director Darlene Trew Crist, 190 people attended the four-hour event.

Bigelow Labs all began on July 1, 1974, when the 43-foot boat named Bigelow landed at the West Boothbay Harbor dock, laden down with oceanographic sampling equipment.

On site speakers included Sen. Angus King, Boothbay Town Manager Jim Chaousis, Bigelow Executive Director Dr. Graham Shimmield, Bigelow Research Technician Alex Vermont, Secretary of the Board of Trustees Robert E. Healing, Chairman of the Board of Trustees David M. Coit, and Mary Bigelow, the granddaughter of Henry Bryant Bigelow (the laboratory’s namesake).

King spoke about how important science is to him, and about his experience in the Senate.

“The Senate is a very strange place. I've never been anywhere with so many good people that gets so little done,” King said.

He spoke about how important climate change is for Maine and the country, and the increase in CO2 production being directly correlated to the temperature of the Earth. He quoted Abraham Lincoln when he said, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. We must dis-enthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country,” referring to the fact that we cannot ignore climate change simply because it is frightening, because what always has been the status quo is no longer sufficient to fix our problems.

Shimmield talked about the advances Bigelow Labs has made over the past 40 years, and how quick the laboratory has been to embrace new technology. He spoke about a technology created to count red blood cells that Bigelow has adapted to count plankton, and how they can now extract and map the DNA from a single organism within three weeks to understand its place in the ocean.

Chaousis spoke about how closely tied Bigelow and Boothbay are, how they have helped each other and how many job opportunities Bigelow has created.

“They have brought in the best and brightest from all over to live and work here,” Chaousis said. “These are the people who will be on our school boards, our selectmen, our board members. The best and brightest.”

Vermont spoke about his experience as an undergraduate student at Bigelow. He lived in Arizona, and originally went to college for sociology and social work, when the opportunity to study at Bigelow with Dr. David Fields came up. Something about the program intrigued him, and he traveled to Maine. He spoke about the amazement he felt watching his project come together.

“Each new data set was like a piece of a puzzle, I got almost desperate wanting to see the final product,” Vermont said. “In fact, my obsessive behavior started to freak some people out, and they banned me from the lab my last weekend in Maine so I could experience more of what Boothbay was.

“Those 10 weeks changed my life forever. When I found out Dr. Fields was looking for someone permanent, I applied.”

Mary Bigelow said that her grandfather, Henry Bryant Bigelow, would have been pleased to see what Bigelow had grown into, and especially would be pleased by the student-teacher relationships created there.

Coit said it was the quality of the people that made the educational programs so successful.

Mary Bigelow praised the lab's work in chemistry, geology and biology. She spoke about her family’s love of the outdoors, how they were taught to check their facts again and again, and how nightly discussions often resulted in several volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica being open on the table as facts were being checked.

“It's a great honor and pleasure to see what he started blossom into this wonderful installation,” Bigelow said.

Three prerecorded messages were also played from Sen. Susan Collins, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and Dr. Paula Bontempi, Program Manager for the NASA’s Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry research program.

Shimmield ended the program by thanking everyone for attending, and hoping for another 40 years of successful research to come.

After the speaking program laboratory tours were held for guests, then a reception and champagne toast.