Exploring an Ocean World (with Robots!)

This presentation was part of a workshop that happened November 10-11 in partnership with Chick Tech Portland, a local nonprofit dedicated to retaining women in the technology workforce and increasing the number of women and girls pursuing technology-based careers. We worked with --- girls from local high schools at Portland State's Maseeh College of Engineering and computer science.


Before we get started: sgiz.mobi/s3/Chick-Tech-HS-Pre-Survey

Pacific Ocean near Hawai`i

About Jenny

I'm a writer, a teacher, a knitter, a dog mom, and a very curious human who'll do just about anything to explore the ocean!

Now, let's get to know each other!

You each have 5 minutes to interview your partner and learn some cool things about them. I'll set a timer for 5 minutes and one of you will play the reporter and the other will be the source. Then, when the timer goes off, you switch jobs. At the end, you'll have a few minutes to organize your notes so you can share what you found with the group.

This summer, I sailed with some pretty cool people. How did they get to be on a science expedition at sea?

That’s me! I’ve studied science communication and creative writing with an emphasis nonfiction.

Jessica Sandoval, Argus pilot and Ph.D. candidate in robotics, with a focus on bio-materials. She has degrees in biological and mechanical engineering.

Jessica Sandoval and Antonella Wiley, Antonella is also an Argus pilot and a Ph.D. student who designs robots to explore extreme environments, particularly in the ocean. She’s a National Geographic Explorer; her studies focused on computer science and engineering.

Dr. Nicole Raineault is Vice President of Exploration and Science Operations for the Ocean Exploration Trust and the E/V Nautilus. Nicole studied: marine science, geology, and oceanography.

Dr. Xara Mirmalek and Mary Nichols. Xara, a social scientist, holds a Ph.D. in communication and science and has studied public administration and policy as well as history. Mary is a video engineer with a long career in journalism and teaching.

Dr. Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert is an astrobiologist; she studies tiny microbes found in the sea and her research may help us understand where to look for life on other planets. Elizabeth studied environmental science, chemistry, physics and geobiology.

Wendy Snyder is graduate student studying navigation systems for autonomous underwater vehicles. She studies mechanical engineering with an emphasis on inertial navigation and oceanic engineering.

Take away from our stories: There are many pathways to STEAM-related careers!

What's your favorite thing about school right now, at this moment?

Mola mola or sunfish love to bask in the sun and can often be spotted near the surface of the water. Sunfish can lay up to 300,000,000 eggs at one time, more than any other vertebrate. Image Credit: Julie Chase

Chocolate talk

  • Red: favorite hobbies
  • Green: favorite foods
  • Yellow: favorite movies
  • Orange: favorite places to travel (or places you hope to visit)
  • Brown: most memorable or embarrassing moments
  • Blue: wild cards (they can share anyone they choose)
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world; they're filter feeders and sieve plankton through their gills for much of their nourishment. They also sieve squid, krill, and small fish. Image credit: Darlene Lim

Our Pale Blue Dot

Why did Carl Sagan refer to Earth as a pale blue dot?

The Earth is blue. Image Credit: NASA
  • Interconnected bodies of water cover 70 percent of the Earth, forming one world ocean.
  • The ocean regulates our climate and makes our blue planet habitable -- about 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe is produced by our ocean.
  • Most of the living things on the planet are aquatic.
  • The longest mountain range in the world is found under water. Stretching over 56,000km, the Mid-Oceanic Ridge is a mountain chain that runs along the centre of the ocean basins.
  • The sea can be described as the planet’s mega museum. There are more artefacts and remnants of history in the ocean than in all of the world’s museums combined!

Read more: Ocean Facts! by National Geographic

How do we know our ocean?


  • Exploration is key: If we don't go explore, we'll never know what's there!
  • 95 percent of the ocean remains poorly explored or unexplored altogether.
  • We have better maps of the moon and Mars than of our own home planet.
  • Many seafloor maps were created using satellites, which aren't very good at seeing the ocean floor. According to my friends on board the E/V Nautilus, satellites map tiny changes in the ocean surface, but high resolution maps of the seafloor can reveal height differences of hundreds of meters! In some cases, the lack of detail that means you can look at a map and not see huge underwater mountains.
Imagine maps made from Lego blocks -- it's really hard to see anything with clarity!
But most places in the ocean are inhospitable for humans to travel to for observations and research. It also costs a great deal of money to send teams of scientist out on ships.
Deep-sea Anglerfish Image Credit: Helmut Corneli/Almany for BBC Earth
  • Deepest point in the ocean: Mariana Trench, 10,994 meters (36,070 feet)
  • Only three humans have every traveled to that depth. It's dangerous, expensive, and it takes a long time to get there. Imagine if your commute to school took six to eight hours, round trip? You wouldn’t have much time for studying!
  • It's cold, dark, and there's tremendous pressure -- imagine the weight of all that water pressing down on you, or the submersible vessel you're traveling in!
  • Read more about the history of deep ocean exploration here.
So, how do we know our ocean?


  • Close your eyes and imagine a robot for exploring the ocean. What would it look like? Draw it!
ROV Hercules off the coast of Hawai`i. Image Credit: Jenny Woodman
  • ROV: Remotely operated vehicle
  • No crew
  • Tethered to ship and operated remotely by a pilot
  • Highly maneuverable
  • Loaded with mission specific equipment

Tools for Hercules

Hercules can be outfitted with whatever is needed to accomplish a given expedition's mission.

  • Cameras
  • Robotic arms
  • Sensors
  • Instruments for collecting samples, like the suck-it
  • Storage bins for collecting samples
  • Water bottles for collecting water samples, environmental, or e-DNA, and more
The E/V Nautilus team recently tested a new piece of technology - the Underwater Gripper. Developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the gripper has 16 fingers spread in a wide array to grasp irregular surfaces under the ocean. In a future development, a gripper like this prototype could have an integrated rock drill. In this case, the gripper would apply the stabilizing force to hold an otherwise neutrally-buoyant ROV close to the seafloor to drill into formations. Image Credit: OET/Nautilus Live
Meet Kaitlyn!

Kaitlyn Becker

I design and build soft robots. Soft robots are typically made of materials like rubber, fabric, and plastics. The primary advantage of soft robots is that they are inherently safe for interacting with humans and animals due to their natural compliance. This compliance is also advantageous for gripping and manipulating delicate objects and complex shapes because soft grippers can conform to an object’s shape and evenly distribute grasping forces.

Let's spend five minutes coming up with a few questions to ask Kaitlyn!

Image Credit: OET/Nautilus

Now let's call her!

Let's build some stuff!


Let's make a mess!

Tomorrow, we'll play some more!

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