Robert ’50 and Shirley (Johnson) ’50 Batdorf
have studied deer in Virginia, wrestled and tracked
beavers at Voyager National Park in Minnesota,
and studied wildlife in Colorado and New Mexico.
They trekked through the wetlands of Manitoba,
Canada. They climbed 300 feet into the air to
monitor hawks in Colorado, got their hands dirty
digging up artifacts of the Beaker people in Mallorca,
and traced petroglyphs of the Hopi Indians
in the Alamosa River valley of New Mexico.
The Batdorfs, of Reading, Pa., have been
traveling the world doing field research for an
organization called Earthwatch Institute for the
past 16 years. Earthwatch Institute engages people
worldwide in scientific field research to promote
the understanding and action necessary for a
The couple, who met in Albright’s chemistry
lab, started going on these exotic adventures
shortly after Robert’s retirement from Bell Labs
Their interest in environmentally demanding
fieldwork stemmed from their daughter Carol,
an oceanographer who began a study on the
effects of oil spills on wildlife surviving in a bay
in New England.
Earthwatch, which has research expeditions
in 48 countries, provides students, volunteers,
teachers, and researchers with the tools needed
to execute field work on a variety of subjects
including environmental studies and archeology.
The Batdorf ’s first memorable trip was in 1990.
The two vivacious Albrightians went to Michigan to
conduct studies on bald eagles. Robert and Shirley
were given 40 nests to tend to, and they helped
collect blood and measurements from bald eagles
between the ages of seven and nine weeks.
(Johnson) ‘50 Batdorf participates in an
archaeological dig in Mallorca, Spain in
Robert says, in order to collect the measurements
and samples, professional climbers ascended
hundreds of feet into trees to reach the nests.“We were called ‘gaboons,’” he jests, as he describes
how the couple gathered items, like feathers,
from around the eagle’s nests. A “gaboon” is
an affectionate term for the researcher’s assistant. The Batdorfs enjoyed themselves so much that they went on another bald eagle expedition the following year.
While digging in a square meter hole at
the Roman Fort on the Tyne River in England,
Shirley found a Roman coin with the image
of Trajan, the Roman emperor from A.D. 98
to 117. “He was before Hadrian and after
Caesar,” says Shirley. She had been told earlier
in the expedition to call a researcher if
she came across any green soil. The coin,
which was made of copper, would turn
the soil green and let everyone
know it was there.
Robert also found an ancient
Roman artifact, a silver
stylus. The stylus would have
been used to write in wax and
was four to six inches long. “It
looked like something you used
to push back the cuticle on your
finger,” says Shirley.
In England, the couple had
the chance to visit Newcastle on
their only day off. They arrived
on the one day of the year in
which the old castle of Newcastle was open, took a tour and viewed
ancient engineering drawings that dated back to
the first and second centuries.
Of the 15 invigorating expeditions that the
Batdorfs have participated in, “Alaska was our favorite,”
says Shirley. In 1995, the pair traveled to
Mother Goose Lake in Alaska. Along with other
team members and researchers, the Batdorfs
tagged and monitored birds using mist nets. Robert
jokes about the weather forecast in Alaska: it was
always, “cloudy with a chance of rain or cloudy with
a chance of snow . . . and it was never wrong.”
These Earthwatch expeditions have served
as vacations for the Batdorfs, Robert says, and
they don’t plan on stopping them anytime soon.“We’ll keep going as long as Earthwatch will
– Kellie Connors '07