Allie Battista (Olney, Md.) is a first-year goalie on the Middlebury women’s lacrosse team. She intends on double majoring in mathematics and computer science with a minor in studio art.
Can you tell me a bit about your science research experience in high school?
I became extremely intrigued by the developing technology of creating three-dimensional models of coral reefs, using a technology called Structure from Motion (SfM). This technology forms models using overlapping photos that can be taken by anything from autonomous underwater vehicles to drones. I found a hole in current scientific research in this field and ended up building a reef simulation in my basement and testing the accuracy of various reef assessment techniques using SfM. It took me many months, computer crashes, and frustration, but I ended up presenting my research at a state science fair and was afforded the opportunity to compete at the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. It was pretty incredible to be able to share my work with and be recognized by numerous scientific agencies and organizations.
What did you do for your high school internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration while in the Caribbean?
I joined a team of scientists aboard a NOAA research vessel on an annual mission aimed at mapping and studying fish and seafloor habitat distributions in the U.S. Caribbean. Our project area for the cruise was near southern Puerto Rico. The area had a surprisingly healthy reef, despite large oil and gas storage tanks and refineries on the shoreline. It was striking to see such a vibrant and thriving undersea community so close to such destructive industries. I assisted with a ship-based hydrographic survey, including acoustic sonar acquisition, processing, data management, and GIS spatial planning. Life on the ship was extremely rewarding and was a life-changing experience. I worked from 4:00 p.m. to midnight, lived with my coworkers, and ran daily on a treadmill on a rocking ship.
Can you talk about your high school internship with the U.S. Geological Survey Coastal Processes Division? The primary task of the lab I worked for is to examine and model alterations in biotic and abiotic processes, most often climate change-driven, affecting the state of coastal wetlands. I was tasked with designing a mechanism for measuring and calculating gas fluctuation rates in a wetland area. This consisted of too many trips to Home Depot, a few dangerous incidents with a circular saw and aluminum, and putting my statistics and engineering skills to test. In the span of a summer, I was able to build a mechanism, install tens of replications at a test site, and begin the daunting process of the data collection phase.
What was one of your favorite memories from one of these internships?
I have numerous stories (research is unpredictable!), but there is one that immediately comes to mind. Most of my field days with USGS involved a 4:30 a.m. wakeup, followed by a 3-4 hour drive to a site. This particular day, we were going to a new site that we only knew about from grainy Google Map photos. It was only accessible by boat, and there was absolutely no cell service. We ended up getting lost on the boat and relying on a small GPS device to find the right location. This was in mid-July on one of the hottest days of the year. I stepped out of the boat onto the marsh and immediately sunk four feet into the marsh. It turns out, the marsh was extremely unhealthy and there was no solid ground other than a few small patches. For the next 45 minutes, we trudged through a lukewarm, muddy marsh, attempting to hold $50,000 equipment above our heads and jump from patch to patch to avoid sinking in. I felt like I was on American Ninja Warrior! Unfortunately, we weren’t too successful. My boots were captured multiple times, and I was covered in mud up to my shoulders. We eventually were able to get most of our data for the day upland after much stress and dehydration (two liters of water does not last you eight hours). Lesson learned: science is quite the experience.
Are you involved with research here at Middlebury and/or Are you involved with any clubs at Middlebury?
I took Oceanography with Professor Tom Manley my fall semester. My lab research team worked aboard the R/V David Folger to study the bottom bathymetry and morphology of a task area of Lake Champlain. I hope to become more involved with research as an upperclassman.
I am also involved with the Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG), an incredible student-run group that focuses on environmental problems and awareness at Middlebury, particularly climate justice and activism.
Note - The photo in the middle is Allie in front of the NOAA ship she lived on. The bottom photo is Allie doing work in the field.