Funding for wet lab drying up

Science department feels pressure due to declining enrollment

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Elizabeth Comiskey / The Torch
The tropical fish tank in the wet lab located in the science building is home to a variety of warmwater marine life. Tropical fish of bright colors swim along the sea anemones and the cleaner shrimp. Cleaner shrimp clean tropical environment organisms of parasites. There are more than 1,000 sea anemones species throughout the sea, all poisonous to their prey.

Lane Community College is facing the potential loss of a 16-year old learning lab. Lane’s declining enrollment is creating a decrease in student fees. If funding is not acquired by the end of the year the wet lab in Building 16 will be dismantled.

The wet lab was built in 2000 under the design and direction of Carrie Newell, Lane science instructor and marine biologist of 20 years.

“Whenever I look at the wet lab, I think about the dream, and then its design. Now it is a full-blown lab where students perform experiments every term,” Newell said.

The tropical and cold water tanks create a learning opportunity, science instructor Albert Pooth explained.

“The wet lab is a valuable resource for the whole college. Prospective students, their families, visitors and even kids from the daycare center check out our marine animals,” Pooth said.

Elizabeth Comiskey / The Torch
Pisaster Ochraceus, better known as “ochre stars,” rest atop a rock covered with algae in one of the coldwater tanks in the wet lab located in Building 16. One of the many things ochre stars eat are clams. The star’s tubed feet pull at the clam shell, then once the shell is cracked, the star slides its stomach into the clam to absorb the nutrients. The clamshell is the only remnant of the clam left after digestion. The ochre stars and the purple sea urchin are natives of the Pacific Ocean.

The wet lab offers much more than viewing — classes at Lane utilize the lab for hands-on learning.  

“I’ve seen photography classes learning about taking pictures through glass and marine biology students acquaint themselves with creatures before field trips to the coast,” Pooth said.

The wet lab houses experimental tanks for students to do research projects and to execute experiments.

In July 2004, Newell and her students conducted an experiment at the wet lab. She brought mysids, small shrimp-like crustaceans, from the coast in order to research their life cycle in connection with gray whales. The research conducted by Newell and her students proved to be groundbreaking. The findings of the research brought Jean-Michel Cousteau to Lane in order to include the research in his PBS documentary, “The Gray Whale Obstacle Course.”

Science Division Dean Paul Ruscher supports the wet lab. Over four years ago he applied a small student fee for the oceanography, aquatic environment and biology classes. He says he did this in order to “help ensure the adequacy of resources to the student advancement.”

The science division is facing the threat of losing future funds with the enrollment decline, which decreases the amount of money in student fees for the operations of the wet lab. If the department cannot secure $2,500 – $3,000 a year the wet lab will be dismantled. The marine creatures would be rehomed and student employees laid off. Funding from student fees would then be used for departmental supplies.

Elizabeth Comiskey / The Torch
The wet lab in building 16 at Lane Community College house tropical and coldwater tanks. This tropical tank holds sea anemones, sea cucumbers, snails, corals and various warmwater fish. Most tropical fish come from reefs in Indonesia and Philippines. Coral cannot tolerate temperatures less than 64°. Depending on the conditions, coral could live longer than humans while in captivity.

Ultimately it is Dean Ruscher’s decision if the wet lab will have funding for next year.

“The decision will be based on available resources provided by the college and input from division staff and faculty. I don’t think it is in jeopardy,” Ruscher said.

Science department faculty and staff members stood together with one statement — students have control over what resources will continue to be made available in the science department. The engagement by students would make a huge difference.

“If people know the full uses of the wet lab then I think there would be more people willing to help it. Awareness is the key,” Newell said.

 

Elizabeth Comiskey / The Torch
The giant green eel lives in the wet lab’s coldwater tank in the science building at Lane Community College. In captivity, green eels average 6 feet and approximately 30 lbs. They are carnivores and eat a variety of marine life. Green eels originate in the western Atlantic Ocean.
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