SEA Currents: s268
Brown University student pursues marine biology and medicine
SEA Semester in the News
Sailing for Science
By David Orenstein
Brown Alumni Magazine
Peter Baek ’19 is a premed student, a scientist, and an explorer—thanks to a Disney movie.
“Ever since watching Finding Nemo with my grandpa and dad,” he says, “our love for fish and the ocean blossomed as every shelf around the house became occupied with aquariums.” Looking after all those fish inevitably led to an interest in science, Baek explains, and then to oncology: “The passing of my grandpa from laryngeal cancer transformed my interest in science to something deeper—the desire to pursue a career in oncology in dedication to my grandpa.”
In the years since high school, marine biology and cancer medicine have become inseparable to Baek. He’s learned, for example, that the tentacled aquatic animal bugula produces a chemical that has shown promise in fighting cancer. Before arriving at Brown last year, he spent summers learning about cancer biology in labs at the University of Pittsburgh and the National Institutes of Health.
On board the Robert C. Seamans
The sleek grey shape gliding into a patch of calm water next to our ship confirms the bow lookout’s call just a moment before. A shark! And there it is, off our science deck, dorsal fin sticking out of the water, languidly, gracefully moving past us. You can count four remoras clinging to its back, the hangers-on to this top dog of the pelagic, open-ocean ecosystem. For that is where we are, two days out of PIPA, nearest land a tiny island in the Tokelau group and American Samoa five hundred miles away.
Am Sam, Thank you Ma’am
What day is it? Where are we? What happened?
I thought this high seas adventure would never end- I didn’t want it to. Let’s turn around and just sail back to Hawai’i. There are plenty of other islands we can stop at, if we wish to stop at all. Let’s live off of coconuts and swim with the bumpheads like the good ‘ole days. Let’s do science and unleash the secrets of the deep. Let’s look up to the constellations and share our stories. Set the Fish! We’ve got miles to make! We’ve got places to be!
The Final Countdown
Projects are due soon! The main salon was filled with laptops every time I walked past, and Morgan, our steward had to kick us out for meals. Within a few minutes of the tables being cleaned, everyone was back to work, like nothing had ever slowed us down. As the deadlines loom, we all want more than anything to be done with our projects and spend more time with each other.
A Letter Home
Dear Mom and Dad,
Before you continue reading, stop. Take a deep breath in and exhale fully. (Dad, you take two! I know how you fret.) I am wholly content.
A Microscopic Planetary Perspective
The 2016 Phoenix Islands Expedition prepares to draw to a close. I and my crewmates boast the calloused hands and sun marked skin from almost six unparalleled weeks of calling the SSV Robert C. Seamans home. At the forefront, we are guided by our magnificent Captain and Chief Scientist, Rick Miller and Jan Witting respectively; I cannot help but draw a constant stream of inspiration from the fierceness and stoic elegance within their collective wisdom.
Thoughts from the Ocean
After a while, we all charge through our arsenals of songs and distractions - anything to get through lookout on the bow. One after another we belt out snippets of lyrics and old tunes we used to know; we fidget back and forth, jump up and down; we even at times donate our sunglasses to the depths below - Neptune always accepts graciously I’ve been told. Eventually however we all find ourselves at the mercy of our own thoughts.
Birthday on the Bobby Sea
Around 2400 I came back to quarterdeck after coiling and hanging lines to find Sergio waiting. Immediately he started singing “happy birthday” with Ruthann joining in after a few moments. I couldn’t help but giggle. To re-enforce some humility, Ruthann and I then promptly went to the galley to grab and then dump food waste overboard (accidentally dumping the bucket overboard too as we hit a big swell…) It’s been a perfect start to an unconventional birthday.
From Me, to Shining Sea
Hello again, people of Earth!
I am told that’s also still where I am, although I can scarcely believe it. If we’re really still on this planet, then we must be the most fortunate people on it. Gazing at the stars in Orona, Chrissy asked me and Cody if we believe in magic, and this place is definitely magical. Last night as Alexandra and I spiraled into pure childhood joy watching sharks, dolphins, and trevally gather alongside the Seamans, we once again realized that whenever you think you’ve experienced all it can possibly offer… presto, something else rises from the deep blue to totally take your breath away.
At the End of the World
It’s fitting that Nikumaroro is an island of spirits in I-Kiribati culture, because it certainly feels possessed by something not present in the other islands we’ve anchored by—it feels like the end of the world, or at least the human one. Extremely isolated, heavily forested, guarded by steep underwater slopes and an expansive reef, and home to thousands of seabirds, innumerable schools of fish, turtles, sharks, and unnervingly large crabs, it is not a human place.