Decentralizing Science: Providing an Open-Access Ecology Laboratory

Rumford, Maine
Open Access
Raised of $2,500 Goal
Ended on 8/04/14
Campaign Ended
  • $410
  • 17%
  • Finished
    on 8/04/14

About This Project

The primary goal of this project is to make science more accessible and exciting by developing a community laboratory for use by scientists, citizen scientists, the science-curious, and students in Cumberland County, Maine. I'm focusing on marine ecology because the Gulf of Maine is an extremely important resource to the livelihood of many Mainers and because it is not confined to the laboratory. Being out in the field is a huge part of ecology.

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What is the context of this research?

As an independent scientist, I am at a lack for space to conduct my own personal research. Places for individuals to conduct research outside of academic institutions is a recent concept. DIYBio, hackerspaces, and incubators are being built and created so that individuals may come to conduct their own research. However, current spaces are aimed at biotechnology. What about other fields such as ecology? In Maine, marine ecology is hugely important due to our aquaculture and commercial fisheries industries.

During and since graduate school, I've also realized the huge difference in attitudes towards science between children and college undergraduates. Children have a natural curiosity for science that diminishes. Hands-on, inquiry-based opportunities must be available at all grades and ages.

What is the significance of this project?

Maine has many scientists and University students studying the Gulf of Maine (GOM) along with a robust volunteering community that helps with research. Despite our dependency on GOM fisheries, aquaculture, and ecological research, without an affiliated laboratory, independent scientists are unable to access the space and equipment needed to conduct research in critical areas not studied by other institutions.

Maine also has a lack of hands-on science programs geared towards students’ grades 7-12. Without an easy way to learn and/or do real science outside of school, students are unable to get unique experiences.

This project will make science more accessible and exciting by developing a community laboratory for use by scientists, citizen scientists, and students in Maine.

What are the goals of the project?

The goals of this project are as follows:

  1. Make science more accessible and citizen scientists have a more active role in the research process
  2. Increase the problem solving and critical thinking skills of students while increasing their interest in STEM
  3. Contribute to the amount of knowledge about the Gulf of Maine
  4. Create a place that is collaborative and encourages creativity and innovation

To measure if the project is meeting these goals, feedback will be collected from clients/participants, students, teachers, and other external reviewers. Comments and advice will be taken to heart in order to make the laboratory a better place and feedback should reflect that.


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Funding is absolutely crucial to getting this project off the ground. Without it, currently interested parties have no guarantee that the project will ever get going, and thus are hesitant to support. This first bit of funding can really launch the project so that it may be on its way to becoming self-sustaining. With the initial $2500 funding goal, I can purchase items to get the lab going and let people know that this is actually going to happen!

Due to the nature of the field, I am opting for portable USB microscopes that can be used in the lab or on field collections. What this does is reduce the need for destructive sampling and allow more data to be collected on specimens that cannot be collected without major damage (encrusting animals or algae). These microscopes are also magnitudes cheaper than desktop microscopes that require a light source.

Future equipment that will allow research capabilities to increase includes the following, but is not in the scope of this budget:

  1. a compound microscope
  2. tanks, chillers, and filters
  3. textbooks and guidebooks for the bookshelf
  4. plankton tows
  5. controlled experiment-building materials such as wire mesh and acrylic panels

Meet the Team

Megan McCuller
Megan McCuller

Team Bio

I am hugely passionate for science, research, and outreach. As a scientist without an affiliation, my ability to do science is hindered and thus, my ability to teach.

My teaching experience includes 3 years of teaching college undergraduates, 4 years of graduate and undergraduate research, and volunteer projects with a variety of organizations in a research or teaching capacity.

I have assisted MIT SeaGrant and the MA Coastal Zone Management Office with the triennial New England Rapid Assessment Survey for Bioinvasive Species (in 2010 and 2013) and on the one last year I discovered two species of marine invertebrates on floating docks that have not been seen in the Gulf of Maine before. I have developed an educational poster for the Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse on island marine wildlife and many years ago, I was also a student intern at the National Resource Center for Cephalopods in Galveston, TX.

Megan McCuller

I love marine biology and ecology and am passionate about education and outreach. I want to inspire young people and turn a "boring" or "hard" subject into something that is worth learning, worth doing, and something that is FUN. I want to show you that there are SO many cool things in the ocean, especially in the Gulf of Maine. Things besides cod and lobster, things that grow under rocks and on top of mussel shells, things that are highly influential to everyday life of the marine ecosystem. Did you know that bryozoans create an added texture that can serve as a great substrate for many other marine invertebrates? Do you even know what a bryozoan is? If not, I want to SHOW you!

Additional Information


STEM interest in Maine is on the decline, as is the number of individuals in the workforce in STEM-related industries. The Maine Department of Education reports that increasing STEM learning opportunities in Maine not only makes informed citizens, but also increases their success in the workforce. Many STEM-related jobs in Maine will show an increase in openings available by 2020. Out of the entire Life, Physical, and Social Sciences industry, 6 out of 7 jobs projected to increase by at least 15% are biology-related. Unfortunately, Vital Signs reports that currently, for every 1 unemployed person in the STEM field, there are 3.3 jobs available while overall, 2.9 job seekers had to compete for 1 job. Thus, workers with a STEM background show lower unemployment rates (Vital Signs ME). This could be due to many factors including:

  1. too many STEM jobs and not enough workers with a STEM background
  2. workers with a STEM education have the basic skills needed for non-stem jobs and out-compete workers with a non-STEM background (“skills gap”)
  3. STEM-educated persons are inherently more eager to work or send in more applications.

No matter the case, the skills one learns through a STEM-based education are in-demand. Such skills that workers are lacking (according to businesses themselves) include:

  1. basic social skills like making eye contact or turning off their cell phone
  2. skills in operating a computer, mouse, or word-processing and spreadsheet software
  3. thinking creatively and problem-solving

Even if students decide STEM fields are not for them, the skills they've learned through STEM classes, such as working together to solve problems, using basic computer software for writing reports and entering and analyzing data, and critical thinking to come to conclusions based on results, are valuable (and expected) in any field of work.

Project Backers

  • 11Backers
  • 17%Funded
  • $410Total Donations
  • $37.27Average Donation
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