A Match Made in Woods Hole

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John and Christina Myles-Tochko

As a student studying invertebrate zoology at the MBL 35 years ago, Christina Myles-Tochko never imagined her career would take her all over the world, sometimes in submarines, usually in U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft.

Chris took the Experimental Invertebrate Zoology course in 1976 after hearing about the MBL from John “Stubby” Rankin, her graduate school advisor at the University of Connecticut and a long-time member of the MBL scientific community. “During that class, I was totally immersed in invertebrates and loving every minute of it,” says Chris.

That summer, Chris joined a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution cruise aboard the R/V Knorr to “Deepwater Dumpsite 106,” 106 miles off the coast of Long Island. “I was the only biologist onboard,” Chris says. “They wanted to see the impact of heavy metals on marine life, so my job was to collect nocturnal migrators and measure their respiration.”

Among the other scientists on the cruise was WHOI/MIT graduate student, and Chris’s future husband, John Tochko. “While John and everyone else worked in shorts and T-shirts on the deck of the Knorr, I was stuck in the big walk-in refrigerator wearing a huge parka from 10:00 PM until 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning,” Chris recalls.

Despite their chilly introduction, Chris and John formed a long-distance relationship, with Chris in Glastonbury, CT teaching at Manchester Community College, while John completed his degree in Woods Hole.

Chris returned to the MBL the following two summers, first to work as a teaching assistant in the Experimental Invertebrate Zoology course, and later as a course assistant for the new MBL Neural Systems and Behavior course. “Being a part of the new course was a great experience,” says Chris. “My job was to take a bunch of neuroscientists out in the field, get them out in the marshes and into the bay to see how the organisms live day to day. Two of them were so enthralled with marine life that they delayed continuing their graduate programs for a year just to savor the Woods Hole environment.”

In 1978, after receiving his Ph.D. in Ocean Engineering from the WHOI/MIT Joint Program, John was offered a position at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), a research and development laboratory and technical resource for the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and other government agencies.

Two years later Chris and John married. Stubby Rankin, who, with his wife, Julie, had been “surrogate parents” to Chris over the years, gave her away at the wedding.

In 1981, Chris began her 25-year career at APL, first working in college recruiting and then as an analyst in the Sonar Evaluation Program, where much of the research was conducted aboard submarines. “When I was initially riding submarines, females could not be on board for more than 24 hours because they had no accommodations,” says Chris. “We would leave port at 4:00 or 5:00 AM and come back the next morning.”

Chris eventually took over maintenance of the U.S. Navy oceanographic databases held at APL, working closely with the U.S. Navy and often flying in Navy aircraft as they deployed instruments to measure ocean water temperature. The oceanographic data created a 3-D view of temperature patterns and was important in the development of submarine detection systems. “If a submarine is good, it can hide in the shadow zone, the layer where the ocean temperature changes dramatically,” explains Chris.

Meanwhile, John worked as an oceanographic engineer in the APL’s Strategic Systems Department developing sensor systems for submarines. “A lot of times I was dropping instruments over John, who was conducting experiments onboard a submarine.” Chris’s flights took her all over the world, and she and John often met in exotic locations like Alaska and Hawaii.

Chris retired from the APL five years ago; John retired in January. They now live in Oxford, a tiny village on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Chris, a Master Gardener, is involved in efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed from pollution. She also volunteers at the local library and museum. John builds houses with the Habitat for Humanity, Choptank.

Chris and John have a long giving history with the MBL Annual Fund and have included the MBL and WHOI in their wills. “With my bequest, I’m hoping that somebody else like me can take advantage of the opportunities the MBL provides,” says Chris.

“Being a part of the MBL course enriched everything for me; it brought everything into reality. I don’t know that I saw where my career was going at that time, and I wasn’t sure if I’d teach or go into research, but just participating in the course and being exposed to all of the talks, all of the people, and the quality of the work were wonderful. In those summers, I felt like my whole life was enriched tremendously—not just professionally.”

 

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