Outdoor Experiences

Biochemical Analysis Requires Lots Of Tissue With Which To Work!

Biochemical analysis, and all the insights that it can provide, require tissue or cells from living organisms.  The work of Dr. J. Woodland Hastings (Woody) of Harvard University in unraveling the mysteries of the chemical mechanisms underlying Bioluminescence required copious quantities of single celled dinoflagellate Goneolax polehedra.

The story of how Woody came into possession of these cells in an interesting one.

There are aspects to how G. Polehedra lives in the ocean that are very interesting and lent themselves to the process that provided Woody with enough organic tissue to support his scientific research.  The first has to do with Red Tides that occasionally occur off the Southern California Coast.  When conditions in the ocean’s water are “right” for a bloom (and these conditions remain a mystery as far as I know) the beautiful single celled dinoflagellates reproduced so rapidly that they turn the ocean water’s red.  This is what the term Red Tide refers to.  It is truly amazing the parameters of these Red Tides. For one thing, these blooms consist almost only of a single type of dinoflagellate.  Another is the fact that as many as 10,000 dinoflagellate cells (G. Polyedra in the case of many blooms off Southern California coast) will exist in s single milliliter of ocean water.

Woody was working on the biochemical pathways related to the bioluminescence that these amazing organisms produce.

Woody’s lab, and his biochemical work, was in a building at Harvard University.  The blooms of G. Polyedra occurred off Southern California, and not uncommonly right off Scripps and it’s very useful pier. This is where Randy Sweeney was able to become a very important component in Woody’s research.  Randy lived in La Jolla while a teenager in the 1950’s.  His mother, Dr. Beatrice M. Sweeney, a colleague of Woody’s, had a lab at Scripps where she too worked with G. Polyedra.  Randy would regularly swim in the ocean off La Jolla Shores, including swims at night.  He became very aware of the Red Tide Blooms because of the blue-green light so evident during his night time swims.  Randy was also very aware of the concentration of the G. Polyedra within the Red Tide by observing the increasing or decreasing intensity of light flashing when the ocean’s wave broke.  Woody would occasionally visit Dr. Sweeney’s lab during summer visits and was well aware through his night time swims of the Red Tides and their variation in concentrations of cells in the ocean’s water.

Woody got the idea of asking Randy to keep track of the light intensity of the night time bioluminescence, and call him on the telephone when it was particularly bright.  Woody would then take the next airplane from Boston to San Diego, and he and Randy would undertake a collection routine using plankton nets dragged beside a small open outboard-motor powered boat (we used a 14 foot Boston Whaler).

Because the bioluminescence occurred only at night, it would be necessary to collect the dinoflagellate cells at night.  Because the bioluminescence would be the brightest several hours after dark, and remain bright until several hours before dawn, it would be necessary to collect the cells from around 10 pm until 3 am.  Logistically this would only be possible using the facilities at Scripps and it’s pier.

Besides collecting the dinoflagellate cells at night during the time when the chemicals responsible for the bioluminescence were at their highest concentration within the period of a day, it would also be necessary to filter the cells from the sea water collected from the plankton nets before 3-4 am when the dinoflagellates ability to bioluminesence would begin to be reduced.  These filters would need to be frozen in liquid nitrogen before 4 am!

Randy and Woody would use the plankton nets dragged along side the Whaler to collect concentrated quantities of dinoflagellates.  The plankton net samples would be placed in 10 Gallon plastic containers, requiring more than 20 plankton net samples to fill the containers.  If we were lucky, we would collect concentrated Red Tide cells in several containers.  The container samples would have to be filtered in Beatrice Sweeney’s lab before 4 am!

This was all possible because Scripps could provide us with the fully fueled and equipped Boston Whaler (with safety equipment and plankton nets) launched into the sea by a crane off the end of the pier.  Dr. Sweeney’s lab at Scrippsalso was instrumental in that it had in place large filtering systems and liquid nitrogen contained in insulated containers that could be used to freeze the cells as well as having Woody take them back to Boston.


More about Life in La Jolla in the 1950s

As a youth in the 1950s my family would spend a month camping at Toulumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. I recently spent a week at the park with my grandchildren. Such experiences and explorations have shaped my own inquires into the incredible world of science as well as that of my own children and now into their children’s views as well.

A child, in fact any age individual, should experience personal interactions with nature. Even a few of these “real world” interactions can probvide a foundation for a host of additional audio and visual interactions with nature through the filter of video.

Many families are too busy in today’s frantic world to provide their children with camping experiences or other real world interactions. Fortunately, today we live within a new dimension of life that includes the Public Broadcast System and a wealth of products of Natural Videographers. I have collected a broad array of these programs which you can view within “Classified Videos (by Subject)”. Please take the time to view what I’ve managed to collect here within the blog, and visit these spectacular natural dramas. I’m not going to say that a video experience can replace a family camping outing, but you can visit a lot more natural places on our planet through video than your family could ever experience in person.


Operation SAIL 1977- UC Berkeley’s The Daily Californian

Operation SAIL -1977

SAIL: a program for kids to learn skills and have funby Michael Stover (UC Berkeley Daily Californian, 1977)

Randy Sweeney lives in the Berkeley Marina on his boat – a craft he built in San Diego and sailed up to his new home.

Before that Sweeney taught high school biology and coached track in Chicago.

Now he plans to combine his joys – sailing and working with kids – in a new project he has created called Operation SAIL.

Operation SAIL (School with Adventure Inspires Leadership) is designed to teach junior high school students from the city centers of Berkeley and Oakland how to sail, but it also offers them much more.

The program will include a number of business enterprises that Sweeney hopes will help teach his students responsibility, self-confidence, and patience such as chartering his 40 foot ketch Cetacea for use in oceanographic research and whale watching.

Sweeney, an experienced photographer, said there is also money to be made taking pictures of other large sailboats while they are out on the bay.

Any profits the program makes will go toward paying the 10 assistants Sweeney hopes to attract between now and December when Operation SAIL is scheduled to get out of dry dock.

He is looking for students from UC Berkeley and Laney College in Oakland to be assistants. The only real job requirements is a strong desire to work with kids.

Operation SAIL will be a one year program. Most of its activities will occur after school and on the weekends.

Sweeney said that about 30 young people will be involved initially in the program. They will be divided up into five groups of six operating crews and will be involved with all the business enterprises, he said.

But learning to operate the boat will be only one aspect of the program, Sweeney added. Mastering an activity in a totally foreign environment can be a big boost to one’s self-confidence, he said.

Boating is the farthest thing from (the students) reality. It is an extension of white upper middle-class society.

“The boat is a powerful teaching tool. It just reeks with natural power and one of the main things kids will get from the program is the self-confidence from mastering the beast.

“I want to hook into what President Carter is talking about. We are becoming very sophisticated at teaching our people to be unemployed. The most important thing is to have meaningful work to do. I can offer that with Operation SAIL,” he said.

Sweeney had experiences similar to Operation SAIL, while teaching in a Chicago high school composed mainly of black students.

During vacations he would load up his Volkswagen micro-bus with students and take off on camping trips. Sweeney said that the destination ranged from the Everglades in Florida to Yosemite.

“They were inner city kids who had no experience with the rest of the country.

The effect (of the trips) was dramatic. It was obvious to me it so overshadowed the experiences the kids had in my classes,” he said.

Sweeney’s eyes seemed to light up as he recalled his past.

He bought the micro-bus while vacationing in Europe after a two-year stint in Africa for the Peace Corps.

For some reason talk about far away continents seems especially appropriate while siting in the cabin of a long sleek sailboat like Sweeney’s.

His home on the water has all the comforts: telephone, electricity, fully equipped kitchen and a great view. All it lacks is mail delivery, but then the rent is only $69 a month.

Outside the boat the colors and sounds of the Berkeley Marina delight the eye and ear.

Through one of Cetacea’s many portholes a bright red flag can be seen violently flapping in the wind, signifying small craft warnings are in effect.

Also jingling are a zillion wind chimes whose orchestrated symphony is rarely silent.

While Sweeney seems to have an enviable life style, it took a lot of work to turn 13 tons of cement, wood and steel into a floating home.

It took three years to build the boat at a cost of about $20,000. It would have cost twice as much if he had bought a similar boat from anyone else, he said.

“Building a boat you get all the options you want and when something happens you know how to fix it. There’s no mystery ,” he said.

One of the special options Sweeney built into the boat is a removable cabin floor.

“There are going to be kids barfing in here” he said. And removable floors will make the cleanup much easier.

Operation SAIL will begin in December and Sweeney needs those 10 assistants. If you’d rather be sailing and like working with kids call Randy Sweeney at 849-2534.