The Ever-Changing Lab

The lab space on R/V Sally Ride is on the main deck, just forward of the fantail. There is a “wet” lab and a “dry” lab, separated by a door. The wet lab connects right to the staging bay via water-tight door, where equipment to be deployed over the side of the ship can be stored when it’s not being used. Sampling can also take place inside the storage bay and samples transported through the wet lab to various groups around the ship, or into storage to send back to land for analysis.

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When the ship is holding still on station, or tied up at the dock, it’s easy to forget that the laboratory space aboard R/V Sally Ride is any different from labs back on land. Everything you’d expect to find in a lab – fume hoods, flammable (or is it inflammable?) cabinets, safety showers and eye wash stations – are on the ship. But when the ship is underway, it’s a different story. The lab benches (table tops) are wood, so that every instrument, sample, or laptop can be secured in case we run into any weather. Our tie-down skills were definitely put to the test during the November CalCOFI cruise, when we experienced a wild ride for 24 hours in 20+ foot seas and 30+ knot winds. A few samples were lost to broken jars, chairs scooted around in the labs and the mess hall, but luckily no instruments or equipment fell.

Science groups that come onboard use the lab space differently – some fill every inch with various equipment and instrumentation, plumbing into the surface seawater feed and setting up compressed gas cylinders, some fill lab reefers and freezers with samples for analysis back on shore, and some only monitor deployed equipment, gathering data on laptops. To make sure every team has its optimal configuration, the labs onboard Sally Ride can be reconfigured, all cabinets and shelving can be easily shifted or removed, and there’s plans to make the benches adjustable as well.

Check out the 360 degree views of the main lab as used by the chemists of the CalCOFI group versus the engineers of the JASON group

Many changes have been made since the shipyard, the most striking being the removal of tables and cabinets in order to set up the wall of monitors in the main lab. The nerve center of all scientific operations onboard, it went from being just another corner of the lab to a well-equipped space that facilitates decisions that need to be made and monitoring of equipment and instrumentation.


Main lab forward in shipyard (left) and now, with the wall of monitors.