For Immediate Release: April 18, 2012
By Katherine H. Crawford, Office of Naval Research
ARLINGTON, Va.—The famed ocean explorer and RMS Titanic discoverer visited the Office of Naval Research (ONR) April 18 to discuss how he’s using innovative “tele-presence” technology for both research and to energize youth about the sciences.
Dr. Robert Ballard—also known for locating several legendary shipwrecks as well as discovering deep-water hydrothermal vents—gave a presentation titled, “The Development of Tele-presence Technology in Support of Ocean Exploration and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education.”
Seeking to make sea floor exploration more efficient, Ballard conceptualized the idea of “tele-presence,” which uses advanced robotics and high-bandwidth, ship-to-shore communications for autonomous exploration. His latest program leverages tele-presence and is funded through an ONR-sponsored grant, “Using the Exploration Vessel [E/V] Nautilus as a Platform to Pursue the Naval STEM Work Force Strategic Approach.” The program employs a multi-step method to propel students into the nation’s STEM professional pipeline.
“My passions are three things: developing advanced exploratory technology, thanks to [ONR]; using that technology to make discoveries; and then using the excitement of that exploration to turn kids on to science through the use of tele-presence technology—I’m after the jaw drop [reaction to the wonders of science],” Ballard said.
For several decades, Ballard has fostered students’ interest in STEM. Since 1986, he has created a series of educational outreach programs in STEM education that use tele-presence: the JASON Project, Immersion Learning and www.nautiluslive.org.
“Ballard is enthusiastic and knows how to capture the interest of young people and adults,” said Joan Cleveland, acting deputy division director of ONR’s Ocean Sensing and Systems Division. “Oceanography is a good hook for getting students interested in science because they may be interested first in a coral reef or a whale, but they’re going to have to learn some math and physics to pursue that interest.”
Recently, Ballard acquired E/V Nautilus and its advanced tele-presence technology to support the America’s Ocean Exploration program. The program uses the technology and E/V Nautilus’ Corps of Exploration—a group of “superstar” scientists and engineers—to interest young people in STEM careers, as well as to discover deep-sea natural and cultural resources.
The Corps of Exploration staff serves as role models, mentors and guides for young people. Their goal is to make STEM seem more applicable to the real world and less intimidating so that students are inspired to view science careers as achievable.
“Our unique approach, our philosophy is, ‘don’t sell science, sell scientists and engineers as role models,’” Ballard said. “America, for better or for worse, is a star-based system, and children will always go after stars as role models. We’re selling role models that kids can emulate.”
A pioneering scientist who has been at the forefront of deep submergence technology for investigating deep-ocean regions, he has completed more than 130 deep-sea expeditions. Through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s (WHOI) Deep Submergence Laboratory, he developed the remotely operated vehicle system Argo/Jason, which he used to locate the Titanic; the German battleship Bismarck, sunk in World War II; and the passenger liner Lusitania, sunk during World War I.
Later, using ONR’s breakthrough, small, manned submarine, Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin, Ballard himself descended to the ocean floor to view the Titanic.
Ballard’s association with ONR spans 45 years. It began when he became a scientific liaison officer to ONR’s Boston branch office and was assigned to WHOI. He later created the Deep Submergence Laboratory in the Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering at WHOI, serving as a senior scientist.
About the Office of Naval Research
The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 30 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and more than 900 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,065 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.