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Dive and Discover: Engaging Students and Public with Exploration and Discovery

For the past 30 years, we have been unraveling the mysteries of the oceans and solving fundamental scientific problems related to how our dynamic Earth works. We have each focused on different aspects of seafloor spreading and, in particular, on mid-ocean ridges—Dan on the volcanic construction of the Earth’s crust, and Susan on hydrothermal processes and the formation of mineral deposits.

Since we first sailed together in 1973 and for the next 20 years, our careers followed different tracks. Dan continued his research, spending considerable time collecting data on oceanographic cruises and making observations at the bottom of the ocean. While still maintaining a small research effort, Susan gained experience in education, teaching undergraduates and developing and running sea-going oceanography programs for grade school teachers.

In the early 1990s, our paths crossed again at WHOI. Both of us had come to believe strongly in the power of exploration and discovery to engage students in the process of science—a critical need, particularly for middle schools. In addition, we perceived that engaging people of all ages in oceanographic research would lead to a citizenry more aware of how the earth works.

Space exploration captured the attention of the public, but oceanographers lagged in showcasing exploration of planet Earth. How could we contribute?

Both of us have spent many hours observing the seafloor and its landforms that dwarf any feature above sea level, even the tallest peaks of the Himalayas. Deep submergence vehicles routinely, almost daily, bring the cognitive human eye to the ocean depths. This, plus the burgeoning success and potential of the Internet, provided what we believed to be an ideal combination of content and dissemination capability. And so together we conceived Dive and Discover.

We secured initial support from the National Science Foundation, and the Institution provided significant cost sharing. The Dive and Discover Web site is targeted at middle-school students (Grades 6 to 8) and the general public. We find working with teachers and students enormously rewarding and look forward to sharing many more explorations through Dive and Discover.

Originally published: March 1, 2002