Spending 18 days on the Arctic Ocean to aid U.S. Coast Guard data collection efforts

Anton Yanchilin
 Anton Yanchilin, an energy technology and applied physical analysis major, spent 18 days of his 10-week internship sailing the Arctic Ocean on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, Healy. (Photo courtesy of Stephan Molvig, COWI Denmark)

Unlike many college students, Anton Yanchilin did not spend his summer lounging around in a bathing suit and soaking up the summer rays instead he bundled up in waterproof gear and set sail on the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Healy (WAGB-20), for a research cruise in the Arctic Ocean.

“I’ve always wanted to sail the high seas and visit the farthest regions of the Earth, but I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to travel somewhere as unique as the Arctic as a junior in college,” Yanchilin said. “It was very rewarding to contribute my technical knowledge to the U.S. Coast Guard’s research mission while also making this once-in-a-lifetime journey.”

Yanchilin, an energy technology and applied physical analysis major at Creighton University, participated in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) HS-STEM Summer Internship program. The program is open to students majoring in a homeland security related science, technology, engineering and mathematics discipline (HS-STEM), and gives students the opportunity to conduct research in a DHS area at a variety of federal facilities across the U.S. Yanchilin was the first DHS HS-STEM intern to accompany a team on a USCG research cruise.

But before he embarked the Healy, Yanchilin spent the weeks leading up to the launch at the USCG’s Research and Development Center (RDC) in New London, Conn., developing a better understanding of Coast Guard operations, aiding in logistical preparations for the trip and developing a data collection plan to ensure the RDC could accurately assess the technologies being deployed for the project. The RDC deployed in support of the Coast Guard’s annual Arctic Shield exercise and focused its research in the areas of boat operations, communications, navigational safety, and oil spill response.

The Arctic Shield mission is a part of the U.S. Arctic Strategy to improve awareness, modernize governance, and broaden partnerships in the Arctic Region. Because of the growing amount of Arctic sea ice melting, more waterways have opened up and maritime activity has increased. For the USCG, this means a larger presence in the region is required along with a need for accurate data-gathering technology to monitor Arctic conditions.

And for Yanchilin, this meant he and his mentor, engineer Scot Tripp, used their time onboard Healy to evaluate and assess the different data collection systems used for Arctic research. “I provided data management support for multiple areas of research, including unmanned aerial systems, underwater vehicles and remotely operated vehicles, vessel operations, ice radars, decontamination protocols, and person, oil, animal detection technology,” Yanchilin described. “My most important contribution to the research was establishing an orderly and easily accessible data collection method so the photos, videos and numerical data collected from each system could be uploaded to the Healy network for archival storage and future analysis.”

As just one member of a fifty person research team, Yanchilin interacted with scientific professionals in different disciplines from around the world. “I thoroughly enjoyed listening to stories from so many different people—they truly inspired me to reach for a career in which I can both conduct meaningful research and be able to travel and visit new places,” he said. “The crew members taught me about various STEM topics, but also helped me to understand different viewpoints on technology, culture, and politics. The whole experience was eye-opening.”

This experience not only opened Yanchilin’s eyes to new perspectives, but also to new kinds of technology and career options. “The technologies I learned to collect data from also have applications in the renewable energy field, which I am considering joining in the future,” he said. “I have a lot of research interests, so I’m still unsure about my career path, but I know I want to have a job that challenges me and makes a difference. After spending the summer on Healy and at RDC, I could see myself pursuing a career in renewable energy at DHS or the Coast Guard.”

For future applicants Yanchilin advises them to apply to facilities where they would enjoy both the research and the environment. “Living on a boat for 18 days is not the ideal situation for everyone—but for me, it was exactly suited to my adventurous pursuits and academic interests. Search for the one you believe will make you happy, apply to the program, and then don’t look back,” he said.

The HS-STEM Summer Internship Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.