Binland Lee, ocean reporter


On this beautiful past Sunday morning at 6:30 am in the Boston neighborhood of Allston, a Boston University senior named Binland Lee, who was about to graduate next month with a degree in marine sciences and had a passion for science communication, died as her house burned around her.

The 18 other residents of the house either escaped along with three visitors present or were not in the home at the time of the fire. Of those in the home at the time, nine suffered injuries, as did six firefighters.

I never knew Binland Lee. It’s always sad to hear that a fellow student here at BU has died no matter who it is, no matter what they study. But when I read an article early this morning in BU Today, the university’s daily newspaper, I will admit my heart sank more than usual:

A self-described devotee of “all things science,” Lee was also drawn to photography and writing and was minoring in journalism.

For a 2012 College of Communication class, Lee completed a multimedia project, referring to herself as an “ocean reporter,” accompanied by a shot of her in snorkel gear, mask pushed to her forehead, winking playfully at the camera. In addition to entries about her research at Stellwagen, the BU Marine Lab, and Wee Wee Caye Marine Lab in Belize, Lee included in the online portfolio profiles, photos, and interactive multimedia components that she shot and wrote.

At the time, Lee told her teacher, Michelle Johnson, a COM associate professor of journalism, that she took her class to better present marine science through multimedia. “I was surprised to learn that she wasn’t a journalism student, because she seemed so engaged,” says Johnson, describing her student as soft-spoken and smart. “She always participated in class discussions, and she was very interested in photography and photojournalism.”

Her website boldly proclaims: “We are the voices of the ocean.” Her portfolio has tabs for writing, photography, video, and research. On her CV, under “Skills,” she lists: “ArcGIS, PAM Fluorometer, stable isotope analysis, micro-CT imaging, water quality analyses, CTD, Photoshop, Final Cut Pro X, Audacity, SoundSlides, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, ThingLink.”

Scientific analysis and media production. Technical ability and social media savvy. That is exactly the kind of scientist this world particularly needs—one with the passion and skill to share the joy of science with others. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the world needs good scientists of any kind. But for the world to lose the passion for science of someone who loved so dearly to share it, who had the commitment to minor in journalism and take classes to hone her communication skills—that, somehow, seems particularly cruel.

Binland Lee died two streets over from me, while I slept in my bed on Sunday morning. That morning, when I woke up, I found messages from worried friends wondering if I was ok. I’ve lived in Allston multiple times in my time as a BU graduate student. The neighborhood is notorious for its student population living in buildings they can afford that are often nowhere near code. This winter, an old Allston roommate of mine who moved to another house in the same neighborhood leapt out of its second floor in the middle of the night in order to escape a fire that eventually burned it to the ground.

We don’t know what caused this fire. We do know that the landlord “dropped the ball,” as authorities put it. The building has apparently never undergone a rental re-inspection as required by law. But we don’t know if it was a cause, if anything that an inspection could have caught would have changed this tragic outcome.

It hasn’t been a particularly joyful couple of weeks here on campus at BU. Flowers still line the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on Marsh Plaza, in memory of Lu Lingzi, the BU grad student killed in the marathon bombing. The desire to seek answers has been, at times, overwhelming.

All I know is this: Lee has lost her life. Her friends and family have lost someone who was “always positive,” who was “loved by everyone.” And the world has lost a promising young scientist who was also a passionate science communicator, photographer, and journalist.

I never knew Binland Lee, and now I’m sad that I never will.

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