By Raleigh McElvery
It was two summers ago during a meeting at Coffee Obsession in Woods Hole that the reunion plan was hatched. “What if we were to hold a 40th reunion for the 1976 Experimental Invertebrate Zoology summer course in person? After all, a number of classmates had been motivated to contribute to our online reunion 10 years ago,” says Chris Earl, an Experimental Invertebrate Zoology (EIZ) alumnus and biotech entrepreneur.
Earl and several fellow alumni, along with course director Mike Greenberg, organized the reunion at the MBL, held in mid-June. The group reached out to almost all of their classmates, ultimately bringing together a full third of the original group. “They flew in from far and wide,” Earl says.
Why did this particular EIZ class inspire such loyalty? Earl attributes the bond to several factors, including the fact that two members of the class still return to the MBL each summer: Larry Rome of the University of Pennsylvania and George Augustine of Nanyang Technological University, both MBL Whitman Center scientists and co-organizers of the reunion.
The 1976 EIZ course was the second-to-last iteration before it transformed into Neural Systems & Behavior, which has continued every summer since 1978. In fact, EIZ was the first laboratory course offered at the MBL in 1888, the year the Laboratory opened its doors. “[Experimental Invertebrate Zoology] was one of the real legacy courses at the MBL,” says Augustine.
Past and present versions of the course seem consistent in terms of structure: morning lectures and late nights in the lab, followed by time spent unwinding and reflecting downtown. “Returning to the Captain Kidd restaurant after the MBL Friday Evening Lecture was an important part of our reunion,” explains Earl.
While Neural Systems & Behavior retains the EIZ course format of multi-week modules—each one focused on a different organism—EIZ emphasized marine ecology and the entire organism rather than nervous systems specifically.
But EIZ ’76 was not simply defined by focus of study. “Our course leader, Mike Greenberg, tells us our class stood out in terms of personalities and commitment to the science,” says Earl.
By many accounts, the course also made a big impression on the students. “The remarkable thing is that almost everyone managed to incorporate science into their lives, even if they ended up as lawyers, physicians, or investors,” says Augustine. “In this way, the course had a lasting influence on all of us.” Like Augustine and Rome, several members of the class have had successful careers in academic science, and trace their ambitions back to the course.
Irrespective of current profession, Earl notes that once reunited, the EIZ ’76 students became marine biologists once more as they took to the seas in the MBL’s collecting vessel, the Gemma. “Our brief voyage, along with our discussions with current MBL scientists, reminded us why we enrolled in the course in the first place,” says Earl. “After 40 years, we hadn’t lost our love for marine organisms.”
Top photo: MRC Manager Dave Remsen and members of the Experimental Invertebrate Zoology class of ’76 study local marine organisms aboard the Gemma during their 40th reunion. Photo credit Christopher Earl.