IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE - The information on this site is subject to adisclaimerand acopyright notice
 
Contact   |   Search on EUROPA  
European Research News Centre - Homepage
Graphic
Weekly Headlines RTD info magazine Diary Press releases Calls - Contacts
Graphic
image European Research News Centre > Research and Society > On-line from a silent world
image image
image image image Date published : 05/11/2001
  image On-line from a silent world
 
image  
   
  A biologist and expert on deep-sea fauna, Jean-François Rees shares his passions and life as a researcher via a website named Nemo. With a ship's log updated daily, photos of expeditions, scientific descriptions, action stories and more, the site is sure to capture the imagination of young oceanography enthusiasts as they discover the secrets of this 'silent world'.
   
     
   

As a boy, Jean-François Rees was gripped by the tales of Jules Verne and the adventures of Captain Nemo deep beneath the sea. Through his reading he discovered unknown worlds, a natural environment that he went on to study, specialising in underwater biology. 'I did my final year thesis under the supervision of Professor Baguet, an expert on the bio-luminous animals of the deep. It seemed incredible to me that it was possible to work on such creatures…'

Exploring the deep seabed

To share his passion, stimulate scientists to reveal some of the secrets of the ocean depths and make the public more aware of their work, Jean-François Rees came up with the idea of 'showing, in real time, exactly what a researcher's life is like'. That is the reason behind the Nemo site, which is aimed in particular at school pupils and students who are invited to enter a very special world of knowledge. 'The deep seabed forms the biggest ecosystem on the planet. Yet it remains largely unexplored. So come with us on a voyage of Discovery. And experience live, day by day, our expeditions to study the extraordinary creatures who live there. Read the daily ship's log of our adventures. And, most important of all, send us your questions and comments by e-mail. We will reply from dry land or from our boat if we are on a mission…'

'I do not see it so much as popularising our work as a way of sharing the day-to-day experiences of a sea expedition, with all its joys and disappointments. Those who follow us will notice that there is more to research than cold logic. It is a genuine adventure with all the uncertainties that implies.'

Sea spray via the Web

Thanks to satellite communications it is possible to follow the daily progress of the expeditions, underwater explorations and work of the scientists on board an oceanographic boat. The ship's log reveals the scientists' state of mind, the excitement of the departure, difficulties linked to weather conditions, and the anticipation among the crew as the nets are dragged up from the ocean depths. Reading the description of a terrible storm on 27 September you can almost feel the spray lashing against your face. You find yourself asking the same questions as the researchers (What are these animals producing these flashes of light that can be seen on the videos? Why do some fish give off such an awful stench during dissection?), and sharing the same sometimes critical problems of their crews (How can the research continue when the deep-sea net tears?).

Blue octopus and sea cats

The blue octopus on the home page has been adopted as a mascot by one class of secondary school pupils. Other youngsters have nicknamed the crew 'Cousteau.be'. Questions arrive by e-mail from all over the place, rich in variety and sometimes decidedly unexpected ('There are sea horses and sea lions… but what about sea cats?' asks Alice). 'On each expedition we are taken to the very limits of our knowledge. So it is only normal for their
questions to make sense to a researcher such as myself. Underwater biology is a kind of terra incognita and the deep seabeds are the biggest ecosystems on the planet. It is easy to understand how such a situation can excite young people's imagination…'

Back to natural history

The paradox for Jean-François Rees is that, as our knowledge of biology expands, so the researcher is becoming increasingly detached from nature. 'The naturalist side of this discipline is on the decline, yet it is often this aspect which is the most interesting. Natural history stimulates an interest in biology and adds to the need for a general understanding.'

This is the kind of aspiration to which a site such as Nemo tries to respond. As does the 'natural history showcase', another initiative launched by Jean-François Rees and others. It involves asking young people to discover the secrets of an animal chosen from the collections in a natural history museum. Through dialogue and a set of questions, its story is told. Why does it have such a shape? Why, for example, does a crocodile swallow stones? Little by little, by trial and error, and as the questions are asked and answered, the 'truth' is revealed. 'There is not enough practical, hands-on experience in science lessons. The aim of the exercises I propose is to add to our understanding of the world through experimentation.'

When asked whether all these activities to promote biology take up too much of his time, Jean-François Rees admits that the hour he spends every day drawing up the log and answering questions is demanding. 'But it is a choice, and a very gratifying choice.' The next trip is already planned: in January or April the team will be setting off to study the animals of the hydrothermal sources in the Pacific Ocean. The aim is to dive to a depth of 2 500 metres under the sea deep within the submarine "Le Nautile". Further adventures are already being discussed…

Contact

Jean-François Rees
rees@bani.ucl.ac.be

Nemo Site
http://www.sc.ucl.ac.be/nemo


Boxes
image    
 

The 'Discovery'

The 'Discovery'

Ninety metres long and able to accommodate 50 crew and passengers, the 'Discovery' is a 'genuine little factory, operating day and night so that the scientists can make full use of the time spent on board'. Sailing under the British flag, the vessel belongs to the National Environmental Research Council (UK).

 

 
imageTop

RTD info special

Boxes

image
Jean-François Rees - 'Underwater biology is a kind of terra incognita and the deep seabeds are the biggest ecosystems on the planet. It is easy to understand how such a situation can excite young people's imagination…'

Jean-François Rees
'Underwater biology is a kind of terra incognita and the deep seabeds are the biggest ecosystems on the planet. It is easy to understand how such a situation can excite young people's imagination…'

 

 

Plutonaster - Captured off the Irish coast, this Plutonaster starfish lives at a depth of several thousand metres. Its ventral surface emits a light which it is believed scares off predators.

Plutonaster
Captured off the Irish coast, this Plutonaster starfish lives at a depth of several thousand metres. Its ventral surface emits a light which it is believed scares off predators.

 


European Research News Centre - Homepage
Graphic
Weekly Headlines RTD info magazine Diary Press releases Contacts
Graphic