Government shutdown affects Course 1 IAP research class in Hawaii national park

Students had to relocate after park was closed, Lincoln Labs planned in advance

A government shutdown began midnight Jan. 20 and lasted three days before Congress passed a short-term spending bill to fund government operations through Feb. 8.

For MIT, the shutdown affected students doing field work at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, as part of the IAP research course Traveling Research Environmental Experiences (TREX). Offered by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, TREX consists of one week of lectures and prep work at MIT, followed by a two week trip to Hawaii where they collect and analyze field sample data before publically presenting it.

TREX participants arrived in Hawaii the evening of Jan. 17 and started field work Jan. 19. According to lead instructor Professor Benjamin Kocar in an email to The Tech, they were originally staying at Kilauea Military Camp, which was inside the national park and close to their primary point of interest, Halemaumau Crater.

However, due to ongoing eruption at certain parts of Kilauea Volcano and the lapse in government funding, portions of Volcanoes National Park were closed for visitor safety. The TREX group was evicted Jan. 22 and had to relocate to a small house in Volcano. “It is generally working well for us, albeit re-packing and unpacking our field equipment and mobile laboratory consumed at least a day, and we’re now doing our best to perform chemical measurements, etc. in a non-ideal location,” Kocar said.

The delays caused by the government shutdown, coupled with heavy rain Jan. 23, have disrupted the group’s planned research timeline. “The unexpected relocation has put us behind schedule and the resulting constant crunchtime feeling has not been pleasant,” Joseph Noszek ’20 said in an email to The Tech. The students will give a public talk about their data analysis in Kona this Monday Jan. 29.

MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, which advances technology for national security and works with departments and agencies across the federal government, was “indirectly impacted by limited ability to interface with Government sponsors who have been furloughed, and certain contracting and financial functions that have been suspended,” according to a press release. C. Scott Anderson, assistant director of operations, declined to specify the government sponsors.

Fortunately, the lab prepared for the shutdown beforehand. “The Lincoln Laboratory Finance Department coordinated with their Government counterparts to accelerate invoicing and maximize the amount of cash available for Laboratory operations,” Anderson wrote in an email to The Tech.

A short-term spending bill was passed Jan. 23 and extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, but does not include concrete action on the issue of immigration.