Dr. Robert Ballard, best known for using the underwater towed sled Argo to find the wreckage of Titanic, will appear as part of the Kennedy Lecture Series Monday, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m. in Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium. Ballard's lecture is free.
The president of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn., Ballard is the Scientist Emeritus in the department of applied ocean physics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Ballard, who has spent 30 years as a researcher at the WHOI, was an early proponent for using submersibles to help confirm plate tectonics.
He later applied fiber optic technology to the design of next-generation towed sleds, used to transmit video to ships at the water's surface. This system, developed with funding from the U.S. Navy, was called Argo. Ballard tested Argo in 1985 by mapping debris fields left by two lost submarines, the Thresher and Scorpion.
After using Argo to find the Titanic's North Atlantic wreckage, Ballard returned to the site, photographing the famed ship and leaving a plaque in memory of more than 1,500 lost at sea.
Ballard currently leads the JASON Project, an interactive, hands-on science education program designed for elementary school students. At the center of the project is Jason, a remotely operated vehicle equipped with television cameras, floodlights and a sample-retrieving device. Students in museums and schools worldwide are able to interact with Jason, whose underwater signals are transmitted via two-way satellite.
"The JASON Project's main strength lies in its hands-on approach to learning," says Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan. "I wholeheartedly support the efforts of the JASON Project to take students on a fantastic adventure that combines science, technology and many of Earth's natural wonders."
The seeds for the JASON Project were first sewn in 1989, when schoolchildren flooded Ballard with letters wanting to know how he discovered Titanic. Bringing the thrill of discovery into the classroom, the Project seeks to discover nature's dynamic ecosystems, research how these systems affect life and what technologies are best suited to study their discoveries.
"By taking advantage of cutting-edge communications technology and bringing science to life, the JASON Project is helping to revolutionize the way science is taught," Ballard says. "That is good news not only for our students, but for our country."
During his career, Ballard has led or participated in over 110 deep-sea explorations. He has written more than 20 books and numerous articles for scientific journals. Ballard has appeared on several National Geographic television programs, including Secrets of the Titanic. The winner of many scientific, multimedia and military awards, he also holds 16 honorary doctoral degrees from institutions in the United States and abroad.
Despite boasting such an impressive collection of honors and accolades, Ballard is happiest when shaping the minds of America's schoolchildren.
"Any parent can tell you kids are fired up with curiosity," Ballard says. "The first question they ask is why? Our job is to capture that natural curiosity and turn it into a lifelong passion for learning."
Joseph Hughes is a writer for University Communications and Marketing