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STUDENTS EMBARK ON DEEP SEA TREK

While most students were enjoying a day off from school Monday, eleven Azalea Middle School honor students sat patiently in a computer class waiting for a phone call.

The seventh-graders paced the floor, or browsed Web sites depicting underwater ocean scenes and strange deep sea creatures.

The student didnt mind being at school they were about to receive a personal phone call from the bottom of the ocean.

The phone rang and the energy level in the room rose a couple notches.

Oh! Here it is! said computer science teacher Maggie Prevenas as she hit the speaker button on the phone.

The students gathered around the telephone. A voice came over the speaker, This is AT&T calling...are you prepared for transmission?

Because of the wonders of modern technology, the students were able to receive an audio transmission directly from scientists aboard Alvin, the deep-sea submersible famous for locating the sunken Titanic.

Alvin is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Azalea was one of 40 schools selected to participate in the underwater phone calls during the Extreme 2001 program, a deep-sea odyssey sponsored by the University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Studies.

On Oct. 15, marine biologist Dr. Craig Cary and a crew of scientists from the University of Delaware, set sail on the 274-foot research vessel Atlantis.

Once they reached their dive site, 90-degrees north of Costa Rica, they launched Alvin into the depths of the Pacific, nearly two miles below the oceans surface.

The crew set out to study hydrothermal vents super-hot, mineral-rich geysers that were discovered in the Pacific Ocean in 1997. At that time, scientists were surprised to find unusual life forms that were not only able to survive the extreme temperatures near the vents, but actually thrived in that environment.

White crabs and tube worms went about their business in the scalding water and the Pompeii worm was dubbed the earths hottest animal it could survive temperatures up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cary and his teams Extreme 2001: A Deep-Sea Odyssey was broadcast internationally via the Internet. More than 13,000 students at 180 schools from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Guam, New Zealand and Puerto Rico were able to share the teams research and experiences on their Web site and interact electronically with members of the research team.

At the end of the expedition, a select list of schools were able to participate in a person-to-person call to the crew on site in the Pacific Ocean.

Maggie Prevenas worked hard to ensure that her students were on that special list, she said.

Last spring, I was doing some research on hydrothermal vents and I found their registration form on their Web site, she said.

She filled out the form and kept in touch with the University of Delaware over the summer. Early this fall she received the good news Azalea would be included in the deep-sea conference call.

Prevenas teamed up with seventh-grade science teacher Diane Cavaness. They spent most of the year preparing their honor students for the big day. The students spent the first semester studying marine biology, hydrothermal vents and plate tectonics.

One honor student was selected by lottery to be the spokesperson and ask questions of the scientists. The student originally chosen was not present Monday, and the task fell to Alyson Zepeda.

When the conference call came, Azalea was one of 10 schools speaking to the science team that day. While the honor students waited their turn, the operator put everyone on listen only status, so the children could hear other students questions from around the country, and the scientists answers.

Zepeda was allowed to ask two pre-chosen questions of the team, the first directed to Cary, who was stationed aboard Atlantis.

What do the scientists on Atlantis do while Alvin is in the water? Zepeda asked.

Most of the time we sleep, said Cary. We have to be up by about 3 a.m., because the sub comes up at around 5 a.m. Once we wake up, we have a meal and we have a daily science meeting. Then we wait for the science report to be transferred to the lab, and we wait for the sub to arrive. Sometimes well do some laundry or watch a video or two.

The second question was patched down to Alvin, which sat on the sea floor, nearly two miles beneath the surface. Scientists Dr. Carol DiMeo, Greg Dick, and pilot Bruce Strickrott crouched in the tiny submersible, ready to answer the students call.

Zepeda asked, Can you feel the temperature change in the water as you get near the vents?

We really dont feel the warm temperature inside, said Strickrott. In fact, its pretty cold in here. Right now, I have on thick wool socks, a wool cap and a sweater. But we have to be careful of the outside temperature and not get too close (to the hydrothermal vents) with our equipment.

Also, the windows are sensitive to the high temperature and they might melt.

Cary wrapped up the call with a message to the students:

Keep your dreams ahead of you and remember, science can be fun. We hope that some day youll be out here with us.

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