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Science + art = one cool teen

Juliet DeAmicis of Saugus spent part of her summer combining passions

Posted: August 29, 2009 3:58 p.m.
Updated: August 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Juliet DeAmicis and two friends ventured into the city during the Fourth of July, which the Virgin Islands celebrates with a festival similar to Mardi Gras.

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When it comes to "What I Did This Summer" stories, Saugus' Juliet DeAmicis should have no problems one-upping her classmates.
The Academy of the Canyons senior and science-lover spent two weeks in the Virgin Islands as part of an Earthwatch Institute Expedition, studying under renowned marine biologist Paul Sikkel.

The international nonprofit organization brings science to life for people concerned about the Earth's future by offering volunteers the opportunity to join research teams around the world, from Antarctica to the South Pacific.

"I was so excited," DeAmicis said. "There were so many different places they could have sent me to and I got one of the good ones."

DeAmicis and five other teens from across the country were selected for a combination of their science interest and artistic prowess. DeAmicis was required to submit five pieces of art along with her academic transcripts for the application.

She included several advanced anatomical drawings along with a freehand pencil sketch of a glamorous model's portrait from a fashion magazine.

The art talent, she suspects, is handed down from her mother Bonita DeAmicis, a former art major.

"I'm still into science, but I like art, too. Part of me, in the future, would like to find a way to combine the two," DeAmicis said.

She was able to combine her passions in the Virgin Islands, creating colorful freehand patterns on cloth when she wasn't studying parasitic ratios on native fish, a project Sikkel has been working on for nearly a decade.

"We would wash fish. We couldn't touch them with our bare hands. We did it in a low-impact way that doesn't hurt them," DeAmicis said. "Then we'd place them in a tank and study whether the ratios had gone up or down."

While exciting, the field science life wasn't as glamorous as DeAmicis imagined. Accommodations were basic cabins, which were occupied by the five teens DeAmicis shared the expedition with, and the food was anything but exotic - mostly crackers and canned goods.

"It was an hour to the city on a dirt road, so it's really expensive to get good food," she said.

The hours were a bit brutal, as well.

"We'd wake up at 4 a.m. to collect fish, then go to sleep in the middle of the day, then get up again at 11 p.m. to catch more fish. It was weird, harder than I thought it would be," DeAmicis said.

Still, the location couldn't be beat. The cabins were set in a tropical rainforest just a half mile from the beach and DeAmicis was able to regularly snorkel in the warm, crystal-clear waters.

"The beach was just like something from a postcard. You could look at the hills from the water and it was all green, except for these bright red flowering trees. It was incredible," she said. "At the cabins, deer would come within 5 feet of us. We'd just sit and watch them."

Adventure wasn't limited to the campsite. DeAmicis and her newfound friends traveled to St. Thomas and St. John on the Fourth of July, which the islands celebrate with a Mardi Gras-like parade. Natives dressed up in wild costumes or painted themselves in festive colors as DeAmicis watched with wide eyes.

"It was the craziest thing I've ever seen," she said.

The Virgin Islands was the furthest locale DeAmicis traveled this summer, but it wasn't the last.

Since she was awarded a scholarship for the Earthwatch Expedition, the money DeAmicis had saved while working over the last year at College of the Canyons' Farmers market was put toward a trip with Outward Bound.

Known for their tough programs for at-risk youth, Outward Bound is a nonprofit educational organization that serves people of all ages and backgrounds through active learning expeditions that inspire character development, self-discovery and service both in and out of the classroom.

DeAmicis' Outward Bound adventure took place in the Sierra Nevadas near Yosemite.

There, DeAmicis honed her budding survivalist skills, including how to select edible wild berries, put up a tarp for shelter, and use iodine to filter water for drinking. She had just two pairs of socks for the 10-day excursion and jumped into lakes for bathing purposes.

"It was easier for the guys, but I learned how to be gross," DeAmicis admitted.

Ultimately, DeAmicis views this summer's experiences as steps to bigger and better things, such as eventually becoming an astronaut.

"I love the idea of going into space. My head's always in the clouds, anyway. Like Lewis and Clark, I can't stand living without knowing the next big frontier," she said. "Anti-gravity sounds pretty awesome."

For more information on Earthwatch Institute expeditions, visit www.earthwatch.org. For more information about Outward Bound, visit www.outwardbound.com.

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