Contact made between deep-sea vessel and Carson Middle School students |

Contact made between deep-sea vessel and Carson Middle School students

by Maggie O'Neill

The first sounds from a research submersible thousands of feet under the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday were echoes, beeps and after more beeps, the voice of a researcher.

“It was kind of creepy,” said Carson Middle School eighth-grader Caleb Johnston, who listened with his classmates Wednesday to the live remote. “But it was pretty cool hearing that.”

As part of a project called Extreme 2004, three researchers on the 35,200-pound submersible, named Alvin, and several crew aboard the research vessel Atlantis, which carries Alvin and lowers it into the ocean, answered student questions.

“I liked this project because I’ve always liked the water and the ocean and all the creatures in the ocean,” Johnston said.

The questions, asked live by students from 13 schools across the United States and Puerto Rico, were sent by satellite to the Atlantis and through radio waves to researchers in Alvin.

“I’ve never really done anything like this,” said student Jeremy Thompson. “These people are so far away. It’s amazing.”

Each of the schools was allowed two questions. Student Jessica Sandquist asked both for Carson Middle School.

The first, to the Atlantis crew, was why the genome for the one-celled organism, the amoeba dubia, is more complex than the human genome. The second question, to the Alvin crew, asked whether the Alvin could ever go in the deepest part of the ocean in the Mariana Trench.

“We don’t really have a great answer for the reason why the amoeba genome is so large,” an Atlantis crew member replied. “Amoebas are like salamanders, which have long genomes because they have so many different developmental stages to go through. That could be the reason why.”

Dr. Joe Grzymski, from the Desert Research Institute in Reno, who was in the Alvin, told students the Alvin could not enter the Mariana Trench, located in the Pacific Ocean near Japan, because the submersible is limited to depths of 15,000 feet.

The Mariana Trench is about 36,000 feet deep.

“I think the students are proud of the questions they asked the scientists,” eighth-grade math teacher Debbie Elder said. “We did a lot of research. A lot of the other questions asked from other schools were answered in the materials.”

Scientists on the Atlantis are part of a 21-day expedition off the coast of Mexico to study hydrothermal vents in an underwater mountain range in the Mid-Ocean Ridge, some 35,000 miles long.

“I thought this was really cool,” said student Kristin Holland. “All of my life I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist, and this is way a good way to learn more about it.

“It would be very cool to go down there and see what life we have on our planet.”

Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at mo’ or 881-1219.

Fast facts

• The three-person sub Alvin made its first dive in 1964.

• The Alvin has made more than 4,000 dives.

• Alvin explored the wreck of the HMS Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean.

• A giant swordfish, which once attacked Alvin, became stuck in the submersible’s fiberglass skin. The fish came back to the surface with Alvin.

• Plans for a new Alvin are under way. The new Alvin will reach depths of 21,320 feet, more than 6,000 feet deeper than the current Alvin.

– Source: University of Delaware Extreme 2004 Web site: