Working from home: Mallory Ringham

Read this at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

I’m a rising fifth year MIT-WHOI Joint Program student in the Chemical Oceanography Program and I’m currently living near family in Syracuse, New York. I spent the first few weeks of the quarantine working from my hastily-assembled basement lab.

There, I had relocated the CHannelized Optical System II (CHANOS II) from its usual home in Aleck Wang’s lab from WHOI’s Quissett Campus. The device is an optical sensor that can make rapid measurements of the ocean’s carbon chemistry, including Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC) and pH. It can also be deployed autonomously from docks, buoys, and mobile platforms like remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), reducing the need and cost of constantly sending scientists out to sea to gather just a few seawater samples. With it, we can make valuable observations of how the ocean’s chemistry may be changing.

Our setup worked surprisingly well, even with a house cat wandering through from time to time. Turning my bedroom into an electrical shop was much less convenient, but my roommate and I still laugh over the absurdity of the situation. I think none of us realized how long term this setup would be when the quarantine went into full effect. At one point, I had to lug about 80 liters of seawater into the basement to actually continue running tests with CHANOS II. Unfortunately, trucking in seawater can only take our research so far until we have to get back to the lab.

I’ll admit that the motivation to keep moving has ebbed and flowed during the crisis, but the student population in and outside of WHOI has been so supportive. Regular check-ins with friends and lab mates help to keep the momentum going for all of us.

Story Images from left: Mallory Ringham hangs on to a suite of sensors, including CHANOS II, in the waters of Eliat, Israel in 2019. (Photo: courtesy of collaborator, Boaz Lazar) and Mallory Ringham poses next to a disassembled CHANOS II, staged in her ersatz basement lab at her home in New York following stay-at-home orders. (Photo: Julia Middleton, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)