Science Saturday at the DMC

picture of students studying wavesMiddle school students from the midcoast and beyond gathered at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole for “Science Saturday.” Coordinated by UMaine Cooperative Extension and 4-H, the program offered area youth an opportunity to explore the physics of waves and water, learn how to grow an oyster, and observe microscopic marine animals.

Dr. Emmanuel Boss, professor in the School of Marine Sciences at UMaine, enjoys working with middle school students because, “it is great fun to see the ‘ah ha’ reaction on the kids faces when they figure out how something works.” He started the day off with an introduction to waves. What are ocean waves? How does their frequency change with water depth? How do waters of different densities interact?  Students experimented with wave tanks to try to answer these questions. Boss then introduced students to Arduino board and programming. By the end of the morning students were controlling the flashing of led lights and integrating light sensors into their circuitry.

The afternoon session focused on aquaculture and marine plankton. Dana Morse of Maine Sea Grant, led a tour through the DMC’s shellfish hatchery. It is the start of the oyster-growing season so students learned how to spawn adult oysters and grow phytoplankton to feed the microscopic oyster larvae. The students enjoyed the algae room, where large tubes of Mountain Dew, Coke, and kale soda bubbled away. In reality the tubes contained nutritious cultures of algae and diatoms, food for young oysters. “It was a blast,” Dana said. ”The kids were well-grounded with lots of knowledge about the natural sciences, and the questions were great.  It was nice to connect the practice of farming in water – aquaculture – with all that they know about traditional agriculture.”


The afternoon finished with a natural history lesson. Students used plankton nets to collect water samples from the Damariscotta River estuary and DMC K-12 Coordinator Lili Pugh helped them identify barnacle larvae and copepods that danced under the microscope. The day’s hands-on inquiry-based activities reflect the very essence of the DMC K-12 program, “I am happy we were able to help 4-H make this Science Saturday program happen,” said Pugh. “It was a great day.”


Laura Wilson UMaine Cooperative Extension describes the Science Saturday program as “an opportunity for youth to get hands-on experience in a STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) topic area with UMaine faculty and staff.” The day was a big success thanks to financial support from Maine 4-H Foundation and a National Science Foundation award to Maine EPSCoR.  If you are interested in similar programs visit

The Darling Marine Center, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015, is the marine laboratory of the University of Maine. It is located on the Damariscotta River Estuary in Maine’s midcoast region, 100 miles south of the Orono campus. Resident faculty and students are associated with UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences. Their research interests range from biogeochemistry, remote sensing and ocean optics to invertebrate taxonomy and ecology, deep-sea biology, phytoplankton physiology and marine archaeology. To learn more about the DMC’s and it’s K-12 program please visit