While roaming the frontier of science, you might be lucky enough to come upon a scenic 200-acre coastal campus in Salisbury Cove, Maine. The Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory is a 114-year-old institution that traces an arc from the scientific era of Thomas Edison and taxidermied animal specimens to the age of nanotechnology and decoding the human genome.
The story begins at Tufts. That respected university in Boston set up a summer science operation on the southern Maine coast, in South Harpswell, in 1898. This so-called Tufts Summer School of Biology focused on studies of marine animals and plants. It soon relocated, changed its name and shifted its focus. It moved up the coast to Mount Desert Island in 1921 when George Dorr—the wealthy gentleman scholar and nature lover who was a driving force behind the founding of Acadia National Park—donated an old farm property that would be transformed into today's larger, world-respected lab complex.
Pamelia and I visited the MDIBL on a recent sunny afternoon. We strolled the piney campus with the lab's delightful Shannara Gilman. The lab now conducts research year-round, with permanent and visiting scientists, but the grounds were a little quieter than usual on this day because no classes or symposia were underway, and no college biology groups from Bates or other Northeastern colleges were in residence in the dormitories or guest cottages.
The campus bursts to life in summer. As we walked past the dorms we could imagine the grounds in July and August, filled with promising high school and college students as well as visiting scientists and their families, some of whom have come here every summer for decades. The empty outdoor glass tanks would be filled with sea life specimens. The lodge-like dining hall would be abuzz, its Ping-Pong table alive with the happy tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap of an all-comers tournament. The new three-story, LEED-Gold Certified (for energy conservation and environmental-friendly design) lab building would be lit up with all manner of brain power.
If you're envisioning the most intelligent summer camp on the planet, a hands-on, working laboratory where internationally prominent science researchers extend that frontier of knowledge by day and in the evening play volleyball on the lawn with teenage biologists-in-the-making, well, you're on the right track. The friendly, family atmosphere blends with a serious level of experimentation, observation and analysis. That atmosphere fills the MDIBL all year, of course, not just in summer.
Back in the 1920s, the lab began focusing on kidney research. The lab's symbol is the dogfish shark because for decades that animal was a favorite study subject. If you're trying to understand human kidneys and the blood-pressure problems caused by high sodium levels, what better creature to examine than one that can regulate its salt levels even while living in salt water? Marine toxins were among the many other areas of study on which the lab left its mark in the decades that followed. Today MDIBL researchers are making breakthroughs in regenerative medicine, environmental science, cellular and molecular biology and other realms. The lab also is home to geneticist, biologist and educator Jane Disney, a dynamo who helps develop young scientists and environmentalists and has spearheaded efforts to restore eel grass and a healthy overall ecology to adjacent Frenchman's Bay.
Perhaps you'd like to look around the place? Come on...
An Amazing Artist and His Kinetic Sculpture Thanks to ornithologist Pat Johnson, who was a member of the original Notebook team in 2009 and continues to inspire us, for passing along this link to this must-see video:
Global Blog Note of the Week According to the latest statistics, The Naturalist's Notebook blog has been read over the last 30 days by people in 81—yes, 81—countries, from Mongolia to Macedonia to Malayasia. That makes me happy.
Answer to the Last Puzzler
The bird was named the cardinal because Catholic cardinals wore bright red robes. How did Catholic cardinals get their name? It is derived from Latin word cardo, meaning "that on what something turns or depends," or, literally, a "door hinge." The church cardinals were so powerful that major issues hinged on their decisions.
Whether you decide to paint your door hinges cardinal red in order to remember this is entirely up to you.
Which one of these statements is NOT true?
a) President Martin Van Buren had two tiger cubs as White House pets
b) President Andrew Johnson had white mice as White House pets
c) President William Taft had a cow as a White House pet
d) President Calvin Coolidge had a raccoon as a White House pet
e) President Harry Truman had a donkey as a White House pet