As a software engineer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing, California, Rich Schramm develops software systems for managing oceanographic data. He works with the Institute’s scientists – looking at their lab and field work, the kind of data they’re collecting, the steps they go through to process the data, and how they use them – and looks for ways to make the process more efficient.
One of Schramm’s recent projects has helped scientists who were struggling to manage data from many different analyses of water samples. “These researchers were spending a lot of time flipping through notebooks and log sheets, looking at figures and lab results,” he explains. “They had no way to organize their data and view them all together.” So Schramm devised a system that the scientists can now take on cruises with them. Now, they can enter their data – such as navigation statistics and time of collection – into a database while out at sea. That database hooks up with historical data on shore. “It gives one point of entry, allowing them to view all the data they collect in context,” Schramm says.
"One of the most enjoyable aspects of his work, according to Schramm, is working closely with scientists"
One of the most enjoyable aspects of his work, according to Schramm, is working closely with scientists. He enjoys finding solutions for their challenges. “By having a good understanding of the principles of the measurements scientists use, we can advise them on what will and won’t work on certain equipment,” he explains. “As technicians, we need to be knowledgeable about the instrumentation at a level the scientists may not be.”
Schramm received an A.S. degree in Oceanographic Technology from Clatsop Community College (a MATE Center partner) in Oregon. “What helped me the most was learning a little about each discipline in oceanography, such as biology, geology, and physics,” he says. “That has given me an understanding of the overall context in which scientists are trying to use data, which is one of the most important skills for my current job.”
"What helped me the most was learning a little about each discipline in oceanography, such as biology, geology, and physics"
The rest of Schramm’s training has been on the job. He worked for thirteen years at Oregon State University in what he describes as a ‘more traditional research technician’ role. He came to MBARI in 1989, working as a seagoing technician for a physical oceanographer. In 1993 he transitioned over to the engineering side because of his interest in the field.
MBARI’s research takes a systems approach to studying the ocean, in which scientists from different disciplines conduct research in a particular area. With his well-rounded knowledge of oceanography, familiarity with research equipment, and software and computer skills, Rich Schramm is an important member of the Institute’s research team.
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