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Under the Sea camp gives kids chance to learn about marine science from A&M professors
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Under the Sea camp gives kids chance to learn about marine science from A&M professors

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Under The Sea

Texas A&M assistant professor Katie Shamberger quizzes campers  about which common household products are acids and which are bases during the Under the Sea camp at the Children’s Museum of the Brazos Valley in Bryan on Tuesday morning.

Students didn't need scuba gear to explore the oceans during the first Under the Sea camp this week at the Children's Museum of the Brazos Valley.

Instead of an oxygen tank or a snorkel, attendees had professors from Texas A&M's department of oceanography to explain the science of the ocean and to get students as young as four interested.

"We're not that far inland, but we're obviously not a coastal community. I think oftentimes the importance of the ocean can be lost because it's not our backyard, so I think for these kids to appreciate the ocean, understand ocean problems and how they can actually impact them being this far inland I think is important," instructional assistant professor Chrissy Wiederwohl said.

A chemical oceanographer, A&M assistant professor Katie Shamberger demonstrated how the pH balance in oceans can change by adding certain acids and bases -- including the acidic carbon dioxide each person exhales -- and changing the color of pH-balanced blue water.

Wiederwohl got the camp started when, after dropping off her own child at a science camp at the museum last year, she asked if there had been an oceanography camp available. Following a meeting with administrators of the children's museum, Wiederwohl and museum staff were establishing the details to create the new program.

As the first guest presenter of the weeklong camp, Wiederwohl said she did not know what to expect because the students range in age from 4 to about 12 years old.

During the first day, she led the students in creating their own oceans in a bottle using water -- dyed blue -- and baby oil, representing the density layering found in oceans and also demonstrating how energy moves through water creating waves, even though the water itself only moves up and down. She then read one of her favorite stories to read to her children: Larry Gets Lost Under the Sea.

The oceans are an "intriguing" topic to children, said Ashley Kortis, marketing director for the museum.

It also helps to have a resource such as A&M, as oceanographers can interact directly with the students to teach them about the oceans.

"They do so much research, and they're experts in their field, so being able to bring that to young children to get children excited about what their life's work has been, it's pretty cool for us," Kortis said.

Barrett Warren, who will be going into third grade, said he learned at camp that too much acid, such as carbon dioxide, can kill animals and destroy the food chain, creating mass extinction of marine life.

Ramona Dworkin, who also is going into the third grade, said she had the most fun doing the different experiments, such as seeing the water change colors as they added acids and bases to it.

Dworkin wants to learn more about the ocean and now has aspirations of possibly becoming an oceanographer.

The students have also been learning about the affects of deep-ocean pressure, with Wiederwohl explaining to them how a Styrofoam cup taken to the bottom of the ocean will be squished. It retains its shape, though, Wiederwohl said.

Wiederwohl will be creating these mini cups for the students by placing regular-sized cups the students decorated into a machine that simulates the pressure seen in the ocean's "midnight zone."

The camp is one example of the outreach opportunities Wiederwohl wants to create through the oceanography department to help give back to the community, she said, noting she is looking forward to working more with the children's museum also.

"One of the misconceptions sometimes with oceanography is that we study whales and dolphins, which some people do study whales and dolphins, but that is not all that oceanography is," she said. "I mean, whales and dolphins are cool, but it's nice to see them kind of seeing the other sides of oceanography or kind of having a better understanding of what oceanographers do and what are some of the ocean problems that we're currently trying to tackle just to kind of build their knowledge base on the ocean."

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