A key facility in Unity College’s marine biology curriculum will become operational again this week with the help of students.
Reopening at an event from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 4, the wet lab is a coral cultivating facility that will allow students once again to study, interact with, and understand dynamic underwater processes within a classroom setting.
“Having a facility like the wet lab makes it possible for Unity College students to enjoy intensive, innovative learning experiences in sustainability science that are not offered by schools ten times our size,” said Executive Vice President and President-elect Dr. Melik Peter Khoury.
The lab was shut down after a water pump failure in 2014.
Maintenance staff provided support work over the summer. But most of the rebuilding and fine tuning of the design was carried out by Perry and students enrolled in “Themes in Marine Science: Coral Culturing” who helped reorganize the wet lab and rebuild the coral culturing facility.
“The students and I discussed the various design and equipment options available at each stage of the rebuild,” Perry said. “They then implemented their decisions, working many hours outside of class time to get results. The students have been working very hard to do this.”
Perry said the newly renovated wet lab is fully integrated into the marine biology curriculum. It includes a large coral culturing tank in which students learn how to propagate corals, and which will provide living specimens for a range of classes.
There is also a bank of 10-gallon tanks for short-term, in-class projects; a cold water Maine tank which will support CoolME and other marine biology classes; and a plankton culturing system to support marine botany and other courses.
“All of these features will support and be supported by undergraduate research and other co-curricular activities,” said Perry, whose students recently helped her discover and identify a new species of marine tardigrade – a microscopic animal known for its extreme resilience – while in the field on Allen Island, Maine.
The wet lab is one of a constellation of hands-on facilities that support animal studies at Unity College.
From studies in biology and taxonomy to animal care and restoration, wildlife biology, pre-veterinary programs, and more, students at Unity College learn to identify, understand, manage, care for, and educate others about animals using the wet lab, animal room and heritage barn facilities.
Other colleges and universities have animal study facilities, but “perhaps what sets ours apart is how it informs so many academic disciplines,” said Associate Professor of Captive Wildlife Care and Education Dr. Cheryl Frederick, who directs the operation of the facilities. “And also that they are largely student managed.”
In the heritage barn — a living lab for larger animals — work-study students are held to professional husbandry standards as they feed and pasture goats, chickens, rabbits and other animals. The barn currently is home to a supply of college-owned livestock including San Clemente goats, Delaware chickens, Katahdin sheep, and silver fox rabbits — all developed in the United States.
Throughout all the animal studies programs at Unity College run stories of alumni who used the facilities to become successful in their chosen careers: Julie Fox ’15, is an intern at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut; Derrick Maltman ’14 is an animal keeper at the Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Kansas; Kristen Volpi ’14 is an animal educator at Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.
Perry said current students and faculty are ecstatic to see the wet lab reopen.
“The wet lab provides practical knowledge of one of the biggest biodiversity crises out there,” Perry said, “and offers the potential for students to engage in culturing and growing corals to relieve commercialization and pollution pressure and learn techniques to restore vital undersea coral reefs that are under siege globally.”
“That’s the beauty of Unity College: We provide students with unique learning opportunities within the context of a small college that’s often more like a family atmosphere,” Khoury said. “The fact that students not only benefit from such a facility, but also helped to rebuild it, gives a sense of how Unity students solve real-world environmental problems.”