Young Engineer Contributes to Marine Technology Field

Bermuda Program intern, Jacari Renfroe.

While many students spent the summer enjoying Bermuda’s beaches and the freedom of not having to set an alarm clock, Jacari Renfroe—a 14-year old at The Berkeley Institute in his first year of senior school—showed up bright and early, five days a week for his Bermuda Program internship at BIOS.

Renfroe is no stranger to BIOS, having competed (and won!) with fellow students during this year’s BIOS remotely operated vehicle (ROV), or underwater robotics competition, run by BIOS science educator Kaitlin Baird.

“When a technical project was offered in the Bermuda Program, we knew Jacari was a perfect match,” Baird said. “He excelled at his challenge and became a part of the BIOS community, even as the youngest participant in the program’s four-decade history.”

Renfroe’s mentor, Matt Enright, a research specialist with the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) Program, worked with Renfroe to develop an instrument that will allow researchers to assess bacterial production in water samples taken on BATS cruises. Bacterial production accounts for 5 to 20 percent of primary production in the ocean, and the organic matter produced by bacteria is an important part of the marine food web, particularly for small predators. 

“Usually we use the CTD rosette to take water samples from a depth and bring them up to the surface, where they are incubated and analyzed aboard the ship,” Enright said. “Jacari built something that allows us to run this same analysis at the depth (in-situ) where the sample is taken, which allows us to ensure the temperature and pressure remain the same as in the surrounding water.”

The in-situ sampler/incubator is a square cylinder, approximately 9 inches (23 centimeters) long and 3 inches (8 centimeters) on each side, constructed from anodized aluminum. The device uses a microprocessor to control a burn wire that, once burned, allows a spring to draw water samples into syringes that have been pre-treated with the bacterial culture growth medium.

Inspired by his work with ROVs and his time this summer at BIOS, both of which highlighted the practical application of his electrical and mechanical skills, Renfroe is already considering applying to BIOS’s Bermuda Program next summer and plans on working on the bacterial incubator during the school year.

Now in its 40th year, the Bermuda Program attracts students from middle and high schools around the island and welcomes returning Bermudian students from universities abroad. The program provides a handful of students each summer with paid internships that include both a stipend and modest laboratory expenses, allowing each student to pursue a mentored course of study with a BIOS scientist or educator for up to eight-weeks. Since its inception, more than 100 students have taken advantage of the program’s benefits.

Many Bermuda Program participants are graduates of BIOS’s Ocean Academy or the Marine Science Internship (MSI) program and some return to BIOS for long-term research projects that serve as their graduate school research projects.

“My career goal is to be a mechanic or an engineer,” Renfroe said, “but I love anything electronic and this program is a great opportunity to learn new skills and techniques that could benefit me down the road.”

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