By Megan Milligan
In March, Science Center educators took their remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Discovery Outreach program on the road to Kodiak and Valdez. An ROV is a tethered underwater robot that can be operated from a boat or from shore. It is a valuable tool used to explore the ocean where it is either too dangerous or too expensive for human divers. An ROV can be used for a wide variety of tasks, including exploring shipwrecks, discovering deep sea animals, and assisting with oil spill cleanups.
High school and middle school students learned the basics of ROVs and about the difficulties of operating in the extreme Arctic environment where hazards include harsh winters, extended periods of darkness, and unpredictable icepacks. Students were split into groups and tasked with designing and building their own ROV to respond to a mock oil spill. They were given a bag of parts and a controller with three motors in order to build their own ROV.
Students took their completed ROVs to the local pool where they tested the buoyancy and balance of their machines. After some adjustments, students tackled the mock oil spill competition. ROVs had to complete tasks such as transporting floating equipment by bringing a beach ball back to the side, delivering a piece of equipment to an underwater work station by driving through a submerged hula hoop, and taking a sample from a pool of oil in the ice by surfacing the ROV inside a floating hula hoop. Students had a lot of fun and got fairly competitive as they raced against the clock. Groups also received points for good teamwork. Teammates encouraged each other as they each attempted to complete the tasks.
One of the most remarkable outcomes of these programs was the variety of solutions the students came up with. All of the groups developed different strategies to accomplish the challenges as they were forced to think about new design and engineering problems. Students also learned cooperation, innovation, communication and other skills which are essential for success in the 21st century.
The Science Center’s Discovery Outreach programs bring these hands-on experiences to students in communities around Alaska. These students develop into our future problem solvers – able to respond to the challenges of threatened natural resources. These outreach programs were sponsored by the PWS Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council and the PWS Oil Spill Recovery Institute.