Textile art

Johanna's photo: high-tech crafting
When I arrived at work this morning, my postdoc, Johanna, pulled up a photo on her phone to show me. Proudly, she held the screen up to my face and then started giggling. The photo was taken in WHOI's AVAST facility - a high-tech work space on WHOI's campus. AVAST stands for Autonomous Vehicles And Sensor Technologies, but the facility is meant to be a collaboration hub for all kinds of research and technology development. It's a very 21st-century, open-concept, community-use work space outfitted with 3D printers and test tanks. The high ceiling and garage-style doors let robotic undersea vehicles come in and out. There are several vehicles being worked on at AVAST right now - a mid-water vehicle that follows fishes and collects their DNA, a full-ocean-depth vehicle with sensors that can handle the pressure at 11,000 m deep, even a titanium sphere that I think belongs to the submersible Alvin. AVAST is by every measure a technological center of activity. 

In the middle of the high-ceiling, high-tech AVAST work space sat Johanna, working diligently with...her sewing machine. 

It may not be as high-tech as some of the other tools at AVAST, but that sewing machine came from Johanna's house to WHOI for a very distinct reason: sewing a plankton net. And it was just as necessary as any of the AVAST resources. 

Recently, Johanna has been building a zooplankton sampler that can operate anywhere in the ocean - down to full ocean depth, 11 km below the surface. Johanna did her PhD on hadal trench communities and has helped out with sorting and identifying zooplankton in my lab. The natural next step was to combine those two interests and start researching zooplankton communities in the hadal zone. The only problem: no sampler currently in existence could collect zooplankton samples at hadal depths. 

That's where AVAST comes in. Using the 3D printers and picking the brains of AVAST's electrical and mechanical engineers has given Johanna the technological developmental platform she needs. The zooplankton sampler is coming along very nicely, and I'm proud of her progress. 

Johanna's sewing machine moment reminded me of all the women textile artists in the mid-20th century. Crafts deserve their place in the art world, and crafting certainly has its place in the world of science. Thanks to AVAST and textile art, the world's first hadal zooplankton sampler is taking shape.