Steven Hartz is the senior marine technician for the Alpha Helix, a multi-disciplinary oceanographic research vessel owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the University of Alaska’s Seward Marine Center in Seward, Alaska.
As the ship’s marine technician, Hartz acts as the liaison between ship personnel and the science teams who hire the vessel. He works with the scientific team prior to, during, and after a cruise to ensure that the Alpha Helix meets all the team’s needs.
Hartz’ duties are extremely wide-ranging. He operates and maintains all the ship’s equipment and must see that a visiting science team’s equipment can interface with his, if needed. Additionally, his responsibilities include keeping abreast of advancements in scientific equipment to maintain the ship as a viable research platform, handling chemicals that may be difficult to ship, and collecting samples for the science teams. He has worked with teams from across the United States, Russia, and Japan.
"The most important skill for my job is the ability to learn"
Hartz works with a variety of electronic equipment. “We’ve come into an era where we use computers and electronics for everything,” says Hartz, who maintains a network of ten computers on board the Alpha Helix. “Even plankton nets have a front end and electronic sensors.” The ship’s systems collect data from acoustic Doppler current profilers, precision depth recorders, conductivity temperature depth profilers, and navigation, meteorological, and sea surface sensing systems. Hartz is also responsible for shared-use mechanical gear, such as box cores, piston/gravity corers, midwater and bottom trawls, and SCUBA compressors.
Hartz holds a B.A. in biology, which he feels gives him a good base for this work. “The mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and scientific methods have all served me well,” he says. “That background also gives me a language in common with the researchers who use the ship, which is important.” Hartz developed many of the skills needed while on the job. “The most important skill for my job is the ability to learn,” he explains. “It’s a dynamic field and the equipment I use today will most likely be out of date next year.”
Hartz sees a tremendous need for skilled technicians. He believes that computer electronics, chemistry, basic seamanship, computer science, scientific methods, and writing are necessary skills. “Training programs should start with these basics,” he says. Then, he recommends some specialized training such as hydroacoustics, remote sensing, optics, and advanced electronics. “Perhaps most important,” he emphasizes, “is to get technicians out on the water early in their training, to make sure they like the environment.”
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