Leaping out of the lab
January 27, 2012
By Jamie Lynn Ferguson
Frankfort resident Elizabeth Conroy didn’t get into science because she loves standing over a microscope. She loves science because she can touch it, smell it, feel it and experience it.
Conroy, who teaches biology and forensic science at Lincoln-Way North, recently exposed her senses to a whole new world in a Teacher Field Experience with the Shedd Aquarium in the Bahamas this summer.
Conroy stayed onboard a research vessel and investigated the marine environment in Bimini by exploring coral reefs, mangrove channels, turtle grass beds, shipwrecks and several other sites. She spent a majority of the trip snorkeling and conducting field projects.
“I’d never done anything like it before — I’ve never even been on the open ocean,” Conroy said. “But it was great ... it was a great opportunity to get to know people.”
But her fellow researchers weren’t the only ones she got to know better on the trip. Conroy was also able to get up close and personal with a 10-foot tiger shark.
“There’s a research facility down there called The Sharklab, and they catch juvenile sharks, take measurements and tag them with trackers,” Conroy said. “They also take larger adult sharks for DNA research, and we were able to watch them from our boat ... not everyone was brave enough to do it, but they gave us the opportunity to swim over and snorkel by the shark.
“I’ve never had so much respect for a wild animal in my entire life than I did at that moment. It was a really unique opportunity, and it’s not something that they ever allow people to do.”
Overall, Conroy enjoyed the trip because she hasn’t had a lot of experience with the marine side of biology.
“I’d never taken a class in it and I’ve never been to an environment like that before,” she said. “In the suburbs, you get excited if you see a squirrel ... one day, we saw five stingrays at once and learned to identify fish and tried to take pictures under water. It was incredible — these were things I’d never thought I’d have the opportunity to see up close.”
Conroy’s passion for biology stems from her fascination and love for animals, she said. In fact, she started out in a pre-veterinary program before she switched her focus to teaching biology.
“I’ve always been interested in animal behavior, and I think that’s why I chose biology as my science instead of chemistry or physics,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in the way we can study and relate to animal behavior.”
The first week of school at North, Conroy showed her students a presentation of her trip and taught them how she used the scientific method during her research trip.
“One of the biggest ideas I tried to bring to them is that science can be exciting and adventurous, and it’s not just sitting in a lab somewhere,” she said. “I told them to look at the opportunities science can open for you and to look at what they can study and see.”