MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) - The shouting from lab students is about foam cups.
The cups are right there, in a photo on a blog from a research ship half a world away off the Galapagos Islands. Each
one carries the name of a student in Connie Leverett's marine science class at Wando High School. The cups are about to
crunch to a smidgen of their size in a submersible vessel two miles down on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
The kids crowd around the computer monitor. They can't wait.
They smush all up because the pressure is so much down there," student Annie Patterson said.
It's so cool, a little miniature cup. It's going to be about 10 times smaller," student Carly Good said.
This isn't your usual high school science experiment.
Also squished into the 8-foot-wide submersible will be Scott White, a University of South Carolina earth and ocean
sciences professor who is studying an erupting fissure along the ocean bottom. He's researching how magma, essentially
lava spewing out of the crack, creates sea floor as it settles. He invited Leverett's class - one of the few high
school marine science classes in the state - along for the ride and brought the cups to the lab before he left for the
Galapagos, a group of equatorial islands about 500 miles west of Ecuador.
A lot of classwork is just for the class. This connects it to the outside world. It makes you feel like you're part of
something bigger," student Carolina Raycroft said.
White's research is a kind of connect-the-dots for an obscure missing piece of ocean science. It's well-known that the
eruptions create sea floor, but there has been little observation how the process works. It sounds a little academic at
first. But the process helps create the chemistry of oceans and affects how sea water circulates, in turn affecting
climate, White said.
In the bigger picture, it's a rare look into the huge recycling plant that is the planet. All of Earth's elements
recycle in and out of the planet core every
200 million years or so.
For the Wando students, it's an up-close and personal look at just what textbook stuff like plate tectonics" means in
the real world - at a cold, black depth they can barely imagine. They're able to follow scientists at work, ask
questions and marvel over the technology involved, Leverett said.
The questions get pretty involved: Do the research teams analyze their data while they make the labored two-hour ascent
back to the surface? What happens if the submersible Alvin springs a leak? (A catastrophe, but it's made out of
titanium, so there's not much concern.)
The class has been adopted for the 30-day trip along with a high school class in Hawaii; White joined researchers from
the University of Hawaii. The $2 million project will take three years, paid for by a National Science Foundation
I want to see what's down there," said Wando student John Bamond, who's fascinated with deep sea creatures. That's
why I'm following them. I want to see what they find."