Chances are you've never seen a laboratory like the one supervised by Chip Maxwell. Pulsating Day-Glo fluorescent lights flash off brushed aluminium walls as Maxwell places his hands on an opaque plastic hemisphere sprouting from the countertop. Maxwell, an environmental engineer at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, rubs it with his eyes closed. "What does that instrument do?" asks a woman from Kentucky, raising her camera to capture the scientist at work.

Maxwell rubs the hemisphere and opens his eyes. "This is how we tell the weather." A few members of the tour group nod their heads until they realize that he's joking. "Actually, this serves no purpose. The cruise architects thought it would look cool."

Such is the strange world of doing live research on board The Explorer of the Seas, the flagship cruise vessel of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Thanks to an...

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