CORVALLIS - A geologist at Oregon State University has been featured in an Internet series on "Remarkable Careers in Oceanography," in a program funded by the National Science Foundation and designed to encourage school children, especially young women, to pursue careers in science.
The series can be found at http://wexo.whoi.edu/default.htm. One part of it, called "Women Exploring the Oceans," profiles the career of Dawn Wright, an OSU associate professor of geosciences and leading expert in the evolving field of geographic information science.
In it, Wright takes readers back to her earliest interest in the ocean as a child growing up in the Hawaiian Islands, dreaming among other things of being a pirate or adventurer in such novels as "Treasure Island" or "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" - a dream she later took pretty close to reality with dives deep into the ocean on the submersible Alvin.
"By the time I was eight, I had pretty much decided to become an oceanographer," Wright said in the web interview. "I wasn't sure I was going to become a scientist, an underwater photographer, or what. I really liked rocks and volcanoes, so I decided to put myself on the path to geological oceanography."
That career has now taken Wright, who has the nickname of "Deepsea Dawn," to the depths of the sea to study volcanic mountain ranges, sites of seafloor spreading and the unique ecosystems supported by hydrothermal vents.
As a geologist she is learning more about the seafloor "plumbing systems" that provide important clues to the nature of volcanic eruptions and the birth and death of hydrothermal vents.
As a geographer, Wright is one of the leading authorities on geographic information science, which includes better ways to display, analyze and interpret information from Earth's landforms, including the ocean floor. In an outgrowth of that program, OSU will host the 2000 Summer Assembly of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science in Portland June 21-24. It is one of two annual business and professional meetings of the group, which has more than 50 member institutions.
As an inspiration for young women who may be considering careers in geology, oceanography or other branches of science, Wright was the type of role model that organizers of the new web site were looking for.
She is the editor of a book called "Marine and Coastal Geographical Information Systems," a frequently published scientist in professional journals, active teacher at OSU, and has been profiled on Black Entertainment Television's website.
Wright is also an avid mountain biker and former technician on the Ocean Drilling Program who knows what it's like to wrestle with heavy equipment on a heaving ship in the open sea.
"As the new millennium begins, we believe it is appropriate to step back and assess what women scientists across the country and across the world are accomplishing today," the web site authors wrote. "They are no longer considered 'unique,' but instead are an accepted and integral part of the scientific community."
Over the course of a year, the Internet educational program plans to highlight 12 women, underscoring their different career paths in science and the diversity of the women who choose science as a career.
Wright said she would like to correct the impression some young students have that all scientists are lab rats, and help them discover the excitement of science and the range of adventures it offers. Which, for her, may include anything from diving to the bottom of the sea to plumb its secrets, or indulging in one of her hobbies - building a pirate ship with Lego toys.