By Danielle Lachance-Butler
The Florida Institute of Technology has begun constructing the $1.25 million Mertens Marine Center to bolster the college's aquatic education. The facility will provide both undergraduates and graduates alike with the ability to conduct research for ocean engineering, oceanography, and environmental science right in Melbourne Harbor.
According to FIT professor of oceanography and environmental science, Kevin Johnson, the new research center is ideal for students because the center is right on the water. The university, in comparison, is on Babcock, which isn't as practical for students who need direct experience with aquatic life. At the research center, Johnson says, students will be able to conduct estuarian chemistry, estuarian biology, and estuarian ecology -- the study of organisms in a semi-enclosed coastal body of water. This will be particularly helpful when they need to write a personal essay on the topic of aquatic life.
The project is expected to be finished by the end of 2021, according to FIT spokesperson Adam Lowenstein. However, the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially impact the construction's timeline. Approximately 50% of illnesses, including COVID-19, are spread through the air, specifically respiratory droplets, and Florida is currently reporting 3.39 million cases of COVID-19. Still, the deadline for the new research space seems promising, and the center is set to provide students with greater laboratory and classroom space.
The center will also provide student data solutions and storage security, which is imperative in the modern enterprise. In the first half of 2019 alone, approximately 4 billion records across the U.S. were exposed in data breaches according to researchers, and cybercrime has increased exponentially since 2020. Strong cybersecurity measures such as cyber security audits and Common Security Frameworks (CSF) can keep the new research center secure.
Funding for the project was provided by Lawrence and Margarete Mertens, who donated $1 million to the school several years ago. Margarete, a scuba diver, and Lawrence, the college's first marine biology instructor, were dedicated to providing the university with an aquatic education center for its future students. Margarete passed away in May 2018 at the age of 83 and Lawrence passed away in December 2017 at the age of 88.
Named the Mertens Marine Center after the couple, the research facility will be located across from Chart House and will overlook Crane Creek on the college's anchorage property, approximately 3-acres wide. Currently, the anchorage houses the Ralph S. Evinrude Marine Operations Center along with research vessels and the college's Indian River Lagoon boats.
According to Johnson, student research boats typically travel from Turkey Creek to Mosquito Lagoon as a part of the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute. Students in the program study lagoon inflows, nutrient loads, dredging, and more. The new Mertens Marine Center will serve up to 50 graduate students and 140 undergraduate students involved in the college's environmental science, oceanography, and ocean engineering programs.
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