The JASON Project: Hi-Tech Exploration Promotes Students' Interest in Science

Article excerpt

Now entering its fourth year, the JASON Project has already taken more than a million wide-eyed North American students and teachers on electronic field trips to fascinating places around the world. This high-tech program is exciting kids about science through the use of state-of-the-art technology and live scientific discovery.

What began as a dream for me--inspired by the thousands of students who were excited by my discovery of the sunken R.M.S. Titanic in 1985--has been transformed into not only the most remarkable, but the largest interactive distance learning program in the world. Access to leading-edge technology has made it all possible.

The technology-driven program enthralls students with "as it's happening" scientific discovery. At the same time, JASON opens up a whole new world of armchair travel for students, allowing them to become pioneers on the scientific frontier. With the JASON Project, we are creating a world classroom where students join together in exploration and learning.

* Foundation to Build On

Made up of a unique consortium of scientific research organizations, educational institutions, corporations, museums and government, the mission of the JASON Foundation for Education is to inspire students to pursue scientific careers by showing them the thrills and excitement of live scientific discovery. It does this through what I call "telepresence"--the experience state-of-the-art technology makes possible that:

* Allows students thousands of miles away to see what JASON is seeing in mere seconds;

* Creates the setting at each interactive site that simulates the JASON Project control room;

* Allows the students to talk to the scientists about what they are seeing as they are seeing it; and

* Gives students the opportunity to drive the underwater robot JASON from thousands of miles away.

Sponsors of the JASON Project include EDS, Cray Research, the National Geographic Society, Toyota USA Foundation, the National Science Teachers Association, and the U.S. Navy's Offices of the Chief of Naval Research and Chief of Naval Operations. All provide invaluable resources and insight to our quest to prepare today's children for tomorrow's challenges.

* Underwater Maneuvering

The JASON Project, and its remotely operated vehicle (ROV) JASON, are named for the legendary Greek who searched for the golden fleece.

The JASON robot is 7 feet long and 3.5 feet tall. Weighing in at 2,400 pounds, it operates at depths of up to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet). Features on JASON include syntactic foam flotation (accounting for 1,100 pounds of its weight in air), seven thrusters that provide precision maneuvering in all directions, and side-scan sonar. Its three high-resolution color video cameras and a 35mm camera are supported by 2,000 watts of high-intensity lighting. It travels at speeds up to one knot (1.15 miles) per hour.

The JASON robot can be outfit with one articulated arm capable of lifting, pushing, pulling and grasping. It can carry up to 250 pounds of equipment or samples it has collected from the ocean floor in a specially designed tray.

JASON is tethered to the towed-vehicle MEDEA by a 150-foot-long, neutrally buoyant, tethered cable. Besides acting as a support vehicle for the free-swimming ROV, MEDEA, named after the mythological goddess who protects sailors, can also perform as a standalone survey platform. Launched separately, MEDEA/JASON can operate 24 hours a day as the support ship remains at sea, photographing large areas of the ocean floor, collecting samples and conducting experiments.

* Exploring Horizons with JASON

All three JASON programs to date have pushed the limits of both technology and scientific exploration.

JASON I

In 1989, JASON I explored the Mediterranean Sea, discovering the first hydrothermal vents on its floor, examining the deepest known ancient shipwreck site, and retrieving artifacts (amphora) from the bottom of the sea. …