4 Sep 2015

Robert Ballard, science explorer

By Paula Johanson

It's good to have heroes. There are science heroes for us all to admire and aspire to imitate. One of the greats is Robert Ballard.

There's plenty to read about Robert Ballard in September 2015's issue of Popular Mechanics. Or on the CBC's website where he was profiled in August. I heard him on CBC Radio One's show All Points West, talking about his youth and his entry into ocean science. When he was a child, he wrote to Scripps Institute saying he wanted to be an oceanographer. They gave him a scholarship when he was old enough to study there. It took years, but he became part of that world of wonders.

The name Robert Ballard might not be recognised right away. You've heard of the black smoker vents at the bottom of the ocean? Ballard discovered them in 1977. But you might know of him as the person who found the Titanic. Remember him now?

This photo is borrowed from Popular Mechanic's Sept 2015 issue.
Now his exploration vessel Nautilus (of course. it's named the Nautilus for the amazing vessel in Jules Verne's book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea!) is run by the Ocean Exploration Trust, of which Ballard is president. Most of his corps of scientists are university students and graduate students in oceanography, geology, biology, archaeology, engineering, or film-making. And like most students, more than half of them are women. When Ballard is not on board the Nautilus, he is connected to its amazing technology by phone and the internet. So are dozens of experts all over the world, consulted at any hour of the day or night by the intrepid crew of the Nautilus during its explorations.

The scientists make use of two submersibles that are essentially robot submarines with cameras and tools that can be controlled from on board the ship. At the end of August 2015, the ship was off Vancouver Island, assisting with the NEPTUNE and VENUS programs, which you can read about at this link. Or check out the interesting photos of sea life swimming by NEPTUNE's monitors on the sea floor, thousands of metres underwater, at this article about the robot submersibles.

The educational element alone of the Ocean Exploration Trust is amazing. Over 500 educational videos are created a year by this team, sharing their day-to-day work and discoveries. If you're interested in ocean science and citizen science, these are people to know. It's easy to see Ballard as a superhero for science learning for youth. You can follow the adventures of the Nautilus and its explorers at nautilus.org or oceannetworks.ca.

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