BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Kelly McLoughlin, a senior at Gov. Livingston High School, had the opportunity to present her Surface Ocean Drifter project to the Berkeley Heights Board of Education during the March 31 meeting.

Thanks to the innovative teaching of GL science teacher Lara Mendenhall, McLaughlin participated in a class project open to all of Mendenhall's Environmental Science students. 

Mendenhall, a second year teacher at GL, asked her Environmental students to come up with a research project, design it them self and obtain funding through the writing of their own grant to pay for the research project. 

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Mendenhall forwarded the "good" grant applications to the Berkeley Heights Education Foundation (BHEF) and Gov. Livingston PTO for their consideration. The BHEF awarded McLoughlin's project a $700 grant.  

An aspiring marine scientists, McLoughlin had a glance into the real-world life of a scientist -- working through research, development and grant writing. 

McLoughlin was appreciative to the BHEF for making the Surface Ocean Drifter project possible. "The BHEF approved the grant, we were so excited when we found out in November," said McLoughlin. "Now I know how to write a grant which is so important with science because you always need outside funding to do actual work."

McLoughlin walked the board members and audience through the steps of the Surface Ocean Drifter project. 

What is the Surface Ocean Drifter?

"The drifter is a devise that floats along the surface of the ocean," said McLoughlin. The drifter will collect data on the surface ocean currents and tides through a transmitter, allowing her to track its GPS location during its travel through the Atlantic Ocean.   

Why this project?

Marine science is my passion and I plan on pursuing it in college as well, said McLoughlin. "I thought this was a good opportunity to get actual scientific research and project experience. -- It is also a great way to raise awareness for climate change that is occurring to our oceans."

In addition, McLoughlin explained to the board that this project has helped to bring environmental education to the different classrooms and different people in our [school] district, which is also very important.

McLoughlin visited Ms. Erika Naftalis' third grade classroom at Thomas P. Hughes Elementary School and provided the class a special environmental presentation on ecological health, ocean currents and satellite tracking. 

McLoughlin not only educated the students at Hughes School, but actually had them help complete the project. The drifter includes four sail-like canvas fins that help capture the currents and propel the device forward. McLoughlin had Ms. Naftalis’ students decorate these canvas fins -- incorporating art into the STEM-base project.

GL Industrial Art and Technology teacher Ernest Monaco assisted McLoughlin in drilling holes in the aluminum pieces that make up the drifter. The basic design is composed of a mast with four crossed poles that hold submerged sails, weights, a flotation devise and a GPS unit. The design is environmentally friendly while keeping the device sturdy enough to stay together through the journey.

Oceanographers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have provided resources and support to the project. NOAA wants to expand the [U.S.] Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS).  The drifters validate the numerical computer models of ocean currents.

NOAA has arranged the launch of McLoughlin's Surface Ocean Drifter. The oceanographer will  launch the drifter from a fishing boat off of Sandy Hook or Cape May during the school's spring break. They will take it out several miles offshore so it doesn't come back.

McLoughlin will continue to communicate with the third grade classroom throughout the two and a half month journey so the the students can track where the drifter is on their own maps.

"We will increase education of oceanography, pollution and climate change throughout all of the schools in the district," said McLoughlin.

The data from the project will be contributed to NOAA's Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) -- which is an umbrella organization of groups making observations of the ocean.

"The big thing that we are trying to do is to raise awareness of climate change and to get more people to know about it and be aware so we can  reduce emissions, reduce pollution, and reduce waste in general. We are trying to inspire change," said McLoughlin.