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Attending Comic-Con to Raise Awareness

July 13, 2015

CEE & COS Professor Mark Patterson attended Comic-Con dressed as a Coral Polyp to raise awareness about the dangers of microplastics in the ocean. Having lived underwater in the research lab Aquarius, he was invited to participate in a panel discussion focused on Aquaman to discuss the new breakthroughs scientists are having underwater.


Source: News @ Northeastern

North­eastern pro­fessor Mark Pat­terson never imag­ined he’d one day attend Comic-​​Con, much less in cos­tume. But there he was Thursday after­noon dressed as a coral polyp, walking around Exhibit Hall amid the thou­sands of vis­i­tors world­wide who flock to the annual pop-​​culture con­ven­tion in San Diego.

Pat­terson, an expert in marine robotics who holds joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Sci­ence and the Col­lege of Engi­neering, will par­tic­i­pate in a panel dis­cus­sion Friday focused on Aquaman; he and other experts will dis­cuss their expe­ri­ences living under­water and how sci­ence is leading to new break­throughs that are bringing humans closer than ever to becoming aquatic beings. For his part, Pat­terson has vis­ited and lived in the under­water research lab Aquarius numerous times and last summer par­tic­i­pated in Mis­sion 31, a 31-​​day expe­di­tion off Florida’s coast.

But a day ear­lier, Pat­terson used his Comic-​​Con 2015 expe­ri­ence to raise aware­ness about the dan­gers of marine crea­tures ingesting microplas­tics in the ocean. Ethan Edson, S’15, an under­grad­uate in his lab at the Marine Sci­ence Center, has devel­oped a low-​​cost pro­to­type, called the Man­taRay, that is equipped with a sensor to mea­sure microplastic con­cen­tra­tions in bodies of water. Edson pre­sented the research and received an award at RISE:2015 in April.

I’ve never been to Comic-​​Con, and this will be an inter­esting way to raise aware­ness about urban coastal sus­tain­ability,” Pat­terson said by phone on Thursday after­noon, moments before heading over to Comic-​​Con by trolley, decked out in full costume.

He added, “I never imag­ined going, even though I love movies with action heroes and ones that have under­water themes, like The Abyss, which I’ve seen over and over and over.

The cos­tume
At Comic-​​Con, Pat­terson walked the room along­side others dressed as Storm Troopers, super­heroes, and other pop-​​culture icons. His coral polyp cos­tume includes a 3XL-​​size salmon-​​colored men’s jersey and a ring around his neck sprouting home­made ten­ta­cles; polyps use ten­ta­cles to catch micro­scopic animal life. The costume’s gut area also fea­tures a cut-​​away of a coral polyp’s diges­tive system to show where the marine crea­ture has ingested microplastics.

He also car­ried a scale model of the Man­taRay to explain to inter­ested onlookers how it works.

I’m hoping a lot of people stop me and say, ‘What the heck is this all about?’” he said.

The dan­gers of microplas­tics

Not only was Pat­terson thrilled to be attending Comic-​​Con, but he also saw is as a great out­reach oppor­tu­nity. Microplas­tics, he explained, are par­ti­cles that are five mil­lime­ters in size and are becoming per­va­sive in the world’s oceans due to pol­lu­tion. Ingesting these small par­ti­cles, he said, can cause marine organ­isms to develop a host of inges­tion prob­lems and can also cause harmful pol­lu­tants and bac­teria to be trans­ported around the world.

Pat­terson said there is a crit­ical need for improving how microplas­tics are tracked and mon­i­tored. Now, this process takes place by drag­ging a small net behind a research vessel and counting the par­ti­cles present in that given volume of water. Man­taRay, he said, addresses the need for a cheaper, more reli­able autonomous sensor to per­form this task and col­lect data on plastic dispersion.