Gary Finch Outdoors: Outdoor STEM classroom

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Just as teachers are getting their classrooms ready for the school year, we visited a floating science lab that uses science and technology to teach local students about ROVs and how they are used in deep ocean exploration.

Adam Alfonso, a NIUST Research Associate explains, “So as they come off their tour of the Nautilus, they are going to see the Hercules which is a really big, really big, professional, expensive ROV that can go down, you know, 4,000-6,000 feet.”

Dr. Chuck Fisher, a Biology Professor-Penn State University says, “You know, when you are using SCUBA you can only go down a couple of hundred feet. The animals we study, the environments we study don’t even start until about 1500 feet and we are often diving about a mile deep.  So, it’s all about submarines, ROVs which are remotely operated vehicles and sometimes we use AUVs, autonomous underwater vehicles.  The other thing the kids like, frankly is, it’s kind of like running a video game running an ROV. It’s all remote and a lot of them are really good at it.”

“From my background, it’s really important for the kids to get involved with it because the earlier you can get the kids interested in the ocean they can start thinking “what do I want to specialize in? Do I want to be the guy who drives the ROV? Do I want to go out an explore the deep ocean or experiment on the coral.  See what the coral are doing or what the fish are doing.” And it just gets them started really early and it just gets their minds racing. It’s really fun to see,” says Adam.

Dr. Bob Ballard with E/V Nautilus-Ocean Exploration Trust says, “We have a huge STEM program. This is basically a floating university and middle school and all the way down.  We do broadcasts to museums, aquariums and science centers. Last year we did 1,690 live shows from our studios aboard the Nautilus so we are all about engaging the public in what we do. So what we are trying to do is turn their interest in our explorations into proof in the classroom.”

“So if we can excite them about science, we can excite them about the ocean and generally just open their eyes to a whole new environment they’ve never seen then we will have succeeded,” says Dr. Fisher.

Virtual field trips with the Nautilus crew are available at

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