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Marine Sciences

Mount Sinai Ocean Sciences Bowl team co-advisers David Chase and Glynis Nau-Ritter with members, Ariele Mule, Ben May, Claire Dana and Jonathan Yu. Photo from Glynis Nau-Ritter

Mount Sinai High School’s Ocean Sciences Bowl team is going national.

The group recently went head-to-head at Stony Brook University against 16 other teams throughout the state, and won first place at the regional Bay Scallop Bowl, an academic competition testing the students’ knowledge of marine sciences, including biology, chemistry, physics and geology. Mount Sinai’s 28-27 win against Great Neck South High School clinched its spot in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, where they’ll join 25 teams from across the country in Corvallis, Oregon from April 20 to 23.

“Going in, we were skeptical, but once we started going through the day, our confidence really built up and everybody got to shine.”

—Ben May

On Feb. 18, the school’s four-student “A” team — senior Ben May, junior Jonathan Yu, sophomore Claire Dana, and freshman Ariele Mule — was one of two left standing after competing in a series of 10 fast-paced, undefeated buzzer, with the next determining the winner. With three seconds left on the clock, Great Neck South ran out of time on a bonus question that would’ve made it the winner, and Mount Sinai came out victorious. The high school has now placed first in 10 of the 16 annual Bay Scallop Bowls.

“It was probably the most exciting competition we’ve had in the Ocean Bowl,” said team co-advisor Glynis Nau-Ritter, a science teacher at the high school. “We work them hard and it pays off.”

Co-advisor David Chase echoed Nau-Ritter’s excitement.

“The students here have not only won the competition, but they’ve expanded their knowledge,” he said. “I’m very proud to be able to contribute to their success, and it’s great to be working with the best of the best.”

May, the team’s captain, said he and his teammates experienced “the ultimate coming-from-behind story” after going through a reconstruction year. May was the only returning member of the “A” team from last year, as the others had all graduated.

“It was thrilling to win and have the experience with so many people who share my love of the ocean.”

—Claire Dana

“Going in, we were skeptical, but once we started going through the day, our confidence really built up and everybody got to shine,” May said. “It was the closest competition I’ve ever been part of. We had no control over it. The other team captain and I were very friendly and it was a bonding experience. The stress of it really pulled us together.”

Calling nationals “a nerd’s dream,” May expressed pride for each of his teammates and said to prepare for the nationals, they met to study over winter break and will be meeting several days a week leading up to the nationwide competition.

“It was thrilling to win and have the experience with so many people who share my love of the ocean,” Dana said. “It was a great surprise, and I thought we all found pride in each other. We were all super ecstatic.”

In addition to competing in the nationals and receiving an all-expenses paid trip to Oregon, each of the four Mount Sinai students received a check for $400 for their victory.

The highest the Mount Sinai team has placed is fourth at nationals. If the students place in the top three or four teams, there are other monetary awards, as well as a trophy and possible student accessories like a netbook. The team could also potentially win a field trip to various research stations, like the Caribbean or West Coast.

Peter Weyl as a young man in the 1940s. Photo from the Weyl family

A founder of the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook, which is now the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Peter Weyl died on Sunday, May 22 at the age of 92.

Weyl, who retired from Stony Brook in 1995, was surrounded by friends and family.

Peter Weyl as a young man in the 1940s. Photo from Malcolm Bowman
Peter Weyl as a young man in the 1940s. Photo from the Weyl family

Weyl is survived by his wife Muriel, their son Stephen, their daughters Ruth and Lisa, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Known for extensive research in a range of oceanography disciplines and for writing the first oceanography textbook, Weyl’s life and academic career took several dramatic turns.

Born in Germany on May 6, 1924, Weyl and his family, who were Jewish, left their native country in 1938 amid the build up to World War II. They moved to England, where Weyl was confined to an internment camp when he was 16. Amid modest living conditions, Weyl and a cousin heard the complaints about the fish that their fellow campmates didn’t enjoy eating.

The two of them smoked the fish, making some money along the way.

This effort reflected an enterprising nature for Weyl, who his family said loved smoking herring throughout his life.

During the war, Weyl and his family moved to the United States, where Weyl attended Stuyvesant High School. He joined the army, where he served in military intelligence, putting his knowledge of German to work. He marched into Paris when it was liberated and eventually returned to Germany.

He came back to the United States in 1946 and entered college at the University of New Hampshire. It was there that he met Muriel, a woman who made a point of speaking to him twice. The first time, she was in a library, trying to choose a picture to critique for a class.

“When he came in, he looked very cute,” she recalled. She figured it was an easy connection for her, so she asked him if she should choose one particular picture.

He said he wouldn’t pick the one she pointed out and kept walking.

Three months later, the two of them were at a dance and were the only ones dressed more casually than their peers. Muriel wore her saddle shoes and a sweater she knitted, while he had “simple clothing,” as she put it.

She walked across the room and touched his shoulder.

He turned around, looked her in the eye, and said, “You and I don’t belong here. Let’s leave,” she said. That was the first of many steps along the way to their 69-year marriage.

Noticing that her husband, who she knew was brilliant, was bored with his studies at college, she encouraged him to take an exam that would allow him to study nuclear physics for a Ph.D. At that time, the country was locked in the beginning of a scientific battle with the Soviet Union.

She gave him $100 and told him to take the test and “show me you’re smart.”

A month later, Weyl was in Chicago, where his wife would eventually join him after she graduated from college. He studied with some of the biggest names in nuclear science, including Enrico Fermi, whom Weyl considered the greatest teacher in history. He also interacted with the father of the Manhattan Project, which built the world’s first atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer.

Along the way, Weyl saw an opportunity to do important work in other sciences that weren’t getting that kind of attention, Stephen said. He turned his attention to the ocean.

Informed by a different scientific background, Weyl took a multidisciplinary approach to basic questions ranging from how life evolved in the ocean to how the oceans were changing, said Malcolm Bowman, distinguished service professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, who considered Weyl his mentor.

Bowman said Weyl focused on climate change and the ice ages 50 years before concerns about global warming heated up.

Weyl authored numerous scientific papers and wrote the first major textbook on physical oceanography, called “Oceanography: Introduction to the Marine Environment” in 1970. That book was translated into five languages, Muriel said. He also wrote a children’s book called “Men, Ants & Elephants: Size in the Animal World.”

Muriel recalled how they got calls from professors at Harvard, who appreciated how Weyl explained science.

Bowman said Weyl was the first to realize the essential contribution of New York City sewage discharges into the upper East River as the prime source of eutrophication in the Western sound. In eutrophication, nutrients cause excessive growth of algae. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose, robbing a water body of oxygen, which can lead to fish kills.

On the lookout for opportunities to fill a need, Weyl invented the main form of desalination that is used throughout the world, said Stephen Weyl. He created the original patent in which desalination uses reverse osmosis.

In a celebration of his life and their memories of a remarkable man, the Weyl family recalled how he “always had a sense of humor and saw the positive side of life,” said Lisa. That sense of humor included the liberal use of puns. He would say, “I have to say, ‘Goodbye, so I can rest a Weyl.’”

The family created the Peter K. Weyl Memorial Scholarship for students studying climate change at Stony Brook. In lieu of flowers, the family asked for contributions to the scholarship.