Undersea Project Aims To Spark Love of Science

By Robert Rothman — March 07, 1990 2 min read

Washington--Robert D. Ballard, the oceanographer best known as the discoverer of the Titanic, last week announced a new venture that will give some 250,000 U.S. and Canadian students a firsthand look at scientific exploration.

Scheduled to begin April 30, the project will involve the exploration by Mr. Ballard and a research team that includes 38 students of two sunken warships in Lake Ontario from the War of 1812.

Using a robotically controlled camera, the researchers will beam the expedition, via satellite, to science museums, where students who have studied specially prepared curricular materials can observe it, operate the robot, and ask questions.

The project is aimed, Mr. Ballard said at a press conference here, at helping solve the “crisis in education"--the low level of scientific literacy among U.S. students.

To turn that around, he said, scientists must stimulate children’s interest in the subject by exposing them to the excitement of scientific discovery.

“Our hope is that by creating a desire among children, the education system will respond by feeding that desire,” said the senior scientist at Massachusetts’ Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In addition to developing scientific curiosity, Mr. Ballard said, the project is also aimed at introducing students to a wide range of scientific and social-science disciplines. The curricular materials--developed by the National Science Teachers Association and the National Council for the Social Studies--help teach students in grades 4-12 about the history of the War of 1812, underwater archeology, the technology involved in the project, the biology of the Great Lakes, and other topics.

‘Jason Project’

Known as the “Jason Project,” after the mythical explorer, the undertaking is the second effort by Mr. Ballard to provide a long-distance broadcast of a scientific expedition. Last year, he conducted a similar project in the Mediterranean Sea.

That effort was so successful, he said, that many of the teachers who participated “were first in line” to sign up for the new project.

“The biggest problem was the follow-up,” he said. “What do we do for all the kids who come bubbling out of the museums? It sends a challenge back to the teachers to keep them interested.”

The Lake Ontario expedition is sponsored by the Jason Foundation for Education, a newly formed partnership between corporations, education groups, research institutions, and museums. In the next two years, Mr. Ballard said, the foundation has agreed to sponsor similar expeditions in the Galapagos Islands, Spain, and the South Pacific.

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1990 edition of Education Week as Undersea Project Aims To Spark Love of Science