A Reflection of ERIS

“A good idea without execution is a hallucination.” Tomas Edison

by: Juliana Pesavento
Oceanography Undergraduate

This quarter I had the privilege of being a part of the OCEAN 497B class, the ERIS Observatory. ERIS stands for Exploration and Remote Instrumentation by Students and is a class dedicated to discovering how anthropogenic processes mediate natural processes in the aquatic environment through the creation of instruments, mechanisms, or programs that will allow students to discover more about some aspect of the environment. Not only is this class dedicated to answering this scientific question, it also gives students the chance to create something from scratch.

On the first day of the class, Miles Logsdon, the Professor overseeing the observatory, introduced our objectives by quoting Tomas Edison, “A good idea without execution is a hallucination.” He was asking us, the students, to actually take the ‘hallucinations’ in our heads and create something great. He believed that we had the potential to do this. I, on the other hand, did not share his enthusiasm. “I have no experience in any of these disciplines,” I explained. Dr. Logsdon smiled and said, “You will!” He was right.

There has not been a class at the University of Washington that has taught me more than this class has. The class forced me to not only research and present an idea; it forced me to carry through. It forced me to bring my ‘hallucination’ to life. My ‘hallucination’ happened to be a transmissometer. A transmissometer measures the turbidity of the water (how much stuff is in the water) using a laser that shines through the water onto a photodiode, recording how much of the original beam reaches it. Before this class, I knew very little about a transmissometer besides the fact that there is usually one on the package dropped off of ships or buoy systems. So I had to start from scratch and research before I went through the entire design process, design review, revision, bench testing, fixing, and the final product. With each of these steps I learned that there is a reoccurring process: researching, creating, fixing, shaking my head in frustration, researching some more, problem solving, crying, praying, and shouting in excitement! I had never done this before, and so, when the final product was finished, it brought me great joy and satisfaction as I dropped my transmissometer off the R/V Barnes and lowered it to the floor of Portage Bayand, and watched data stream live onto my computer. It is true that my project was far from perfect (my main pressure case leaked, my calibration was terrible, and my materials far below par for what they needed to be), but the imperfection of the result pales in comparison to what I learned about designing an instrument. This class taught me the importance of perseverance when everything is going wrong, patience with other people as they also contribute to the project, the sorrow of failure, and the sweet sensation of success.

All of these steps add up to experience, the most important underlying theme of the class. In today's world, students go through college with limited experience. We come out of university with a degree, proving that we were successful in the classroom. But, that tells nothing about what we are capable of outside the classroom, out in the ‘real world.’ This class allowed me to take my classroom knowledge and apply it. I got to prove to myself that I can be successful outside of the classroom setting. It made me more secure in my sense of achievement. I know that I still have a long way to go, and I am willing to work for that. But, as of now, I know that I have potential. I can’t wait for next year!


“A good idea without execution is a hallucination.” Tomas Edison