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Learning by doing: Jacobs students on a training cruise with the Heincke research vessel


November 6, 2018

The North Sea is as cloudy and opaque as ever. But what is hidden at the bottom of the sea is slowly becoming apparent on the computer screen at the top of the research vessel Heincke - thanks to the sonar. Yellow on blue and in 3D, the contours of a shipwreck from the First World War become visible. It is a fascinating encounter with history.

Sonars are the eyes of scientists in the ocean. Dealing with the complex technology, analysis equipment and underwater robots is just as much a goal of the "teaching cruise" as taking and examining water or sediment samples. "The cruise is really great because the students are already gaining practical experience with maritime research in their second year," says Dr. Vikram Unnithan, Professor of Geosciences at Jacobs University Bremen. Dr. Jelle Bijma, Head of the Marine Biogeosciences Section at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and Adjunct Professor at Jacobs University, says: "What you see and learn here stays with you." The two leaders have been organising the educational trip together for over ten years.

Professor Vikram Unnithan shows students a piece of the reddish rock from which the famous Helgoland rock "Lange Anna" is made.

Once a year, Heincke sets sail with bachelor students from Jacobs University's "Earth and Environmental Sciences" program. The 55 metre long ship, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, belongs to the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI). The voyage is conducted jointly, with doctoral students from the POLMAR graduate school of the AWI and master students from other universities on board. This mix is an additional attraction, contacts are made, experiences are exchanged.

What the students learn, they have previously played through in theory in the seminar. They can use the data they collect for their bachelor thesis.  The whole spectrum of the subject from marine geophysics to marine biology and oceanography is taught. Interdisciplinarity is important, and scientists from various disciplines are on the cruise. "In order to understand the topics and solve problems, you have to think and work interdisciplinarily," says Unnithan. Aspects of physics, chemistry, biology or even the social sciences play a role.

The group on the way on Helgoland

On the several-day educational trip, the weather can get stormy. Unnithan has been on board for a dozen years and has never been seasick. "Working at sea is not as easy as in the office. The ship moves, it swings, you have to concentrate. The changing conditions are also a good experience."  Another thing that the students won't forget so quickly is their assignment as a cruise leader on the last day of the trip. They determine which experiments will be carried out and have to consult with the captain and the other scientists.

The program of the cruise is constantly being further developed. Unnithan wants to involve students from the field of data engineering in the coming year, because more and more data is generated during the experiments. Technology is also progressing. Underwater drones and marine robotics are playing an increasingly important role. "Excursions are very, very important in the geosciences," says Unnithan. "It's great that we can offer this opportunity to our students.

Questions will be answered by:
Vikram Unnithan | Professor of Geosciences
v.unnithan [at] | Tel: +49 421 200-3161

Video of the educational trip:


About Jacobs University Bremen:
Studying in an international community. Obtaining a qualification to work on responsible tasks in a digitized and globalized society. Learning, researching and teaching across academic disciplines and countries. Strengthening people and markets with innovative solutions and advanced training programs. This is what Jacobs University Bremen stands for. Established as a private, English-medium campus university in Germany in 2001, it is continuously achieving top results in national and international university rankings. Its almost 1,400 students come from more than 100 countries with around 80% having relocated to Germany for their studies. Jacobs University’s research projects are funded by the German Research Foundation or the EU Research and Innovation program as well as by globally leading companies.

Thomas Joppig | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
Corporate Communications & Public Relations
t.joppig [at] | Tel.: +49 421 200-4504