UD Celebrates Opening of New Robotic Discovery Laboratories

Joanne Currier Daiber gave up a career in marine science for love, but she never gave up her love of marine science.

A single ribbon was cut at a celebration to commemorate both the dedication of the R/V Joanne Daiber and the opening of the new Robotic Discovery Laboratories at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes.

Now, a new ship to support coastal research and education at the University of Delaware has been named for Daiber, who was the first female marine scientist hired by UD — in an era when few women entered scientific fields.

Her career began in 1951 and ended just two years later, when she married a colleague, Franklin Daiber, in the fledgling program. University policy at the time prohibited married couples from working together, but Joanne Daiber continued to support the program as a volunteer by coordinating graduate housing, editing books and manuscripts, and assisting in research.

More than six decades later, some 100 people turned out for a ceremony to celebrate the dedication of the 46-foot R/V Joanne Daiber and the opening of the new Robotic Discovery Laboratories at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes.

Participants included civic leaders, federal agency representatives, private citizens, industrial partners, and University trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, and students.

Voyage of discovery

Nancy Targett, dean of UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, welcomed the audience to the celebration.

“Our goals in CEOE are simple,” Targett said. “We want to inspire and transform our students, conduct research that helps us enhance our understanding of the environment and that develops solutions for the environmental challenges we face, and partner with people at the local, state, regional, national and global levels across public and private sectors.”

“When we do those things well,” she continued, “it comes back around because we inspire and transform our students, we inspire and transform ourselves, and we benefit society through our engagement and the impact of our work.”

Assets like the ship and the lab are critical to CEOE’s efforts to build capacity in environmental technology and underwater robotics — capacity that will enhance coastal and ocean exploration and impact national security, port and harbor operations, environmental response, and understanding of global climate change.

Environmental challenges of the 21st century

Charlie Riordan, vice provost for research, pointed to the educational benefits of facilities like the R/V Joanne Daiber and the Robotic Discovery Laboratories.

“Providing hands-on, real-world learning opportunities is a hallmark of the rich academic climate at UD,” he said. “Whether those experiences happen behind a lab bench or on board a ship, in a lecture hall or in the salt marsh, we know that through these experiences, alongside productive faculty members, our students are truly immersed in the science that they hope to pursue beyond UD.”

He also said that CEOE is positioned to answer the environmental challenges of the 21st century, including environmental quality, climate change, and green energy solutions.

Finally, Riordan alluded to the gender issues that prevented Joanne Daiber from formally continuing a career in science but failed to stem her passion for the work.

“As we continue to encourage more women to enter the STEM fields, may the leadership of Dean Targett and the naming of the research vessel after UD’s first female marine scientist be inspiring to young women who look to careers in science and technology,” he said.

Robots, robots everywhere, even in the drink

With its cross-cutting nature, robotics is a rich area for collaboration across the University, including not only in underwater systems but also in child development, disaster response, and cybersecurity.

While the R/V Joanne Daiber serves as a platform to deploy underwater robotic systems, the new Robotic Discovery Laboratories consolidate CEOE’s environmental robotics capabilities by fostering collaboration, coordinating operational logistics, and facilitating the management of large datasets.

The lab, which houses seven unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), connects the research of multiple faculty members under one umbrella to carry out a broad range of missions. The UUVs can map and measure, record video, and capture photos and side-scan sonar images.

Current projects include quantifying dredge impacts on scallop harvesting in the mid-Atlantic, searching for downed American aircraft from World War II in the Pacific Ocean, assessing the impact of physical processes on penguins in Antarctica, and managing environmental resources at Assateague Island National Seashore.

“It’s easy to appreciate the synergy between the lab and the ship in terms of facilitating the use of these robotic tools in the local environment,” said Mark Moline, director of UD’s School of Marine Science and Policy.

You’ve come a long way, baby

After Franklin Daiber retired, he and Joanne co-authored a two-book set, Salty Memoirs: Adventures in Marine Science.

The Daibers painted a vivid picture of what it was like to use the University’s first research vessel, the 40-foot Acartia, which had “a cabin, a faulty compass, a car engine, and little else,” according to Franklin.

They also remember the program’s first improvised lab in an old restaurant at Bunting’s Landing in Lewes.

If they were alive today, they would undoubtedly be proud of CEOE’s fleet of research vessels, its state-of-the art labs, and the work enabled by these modern facilities.

Editor’s note: Click here for News Journal coverage of the event. Additional photos from the event are available at the CEOE Facebook page.

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