Deep-sea Explorer Inspiring Next Generation During Herrington Lecture at RSU

Deep-sea explorer and educator Dr. Robert Ballard has spent a lifetime trying to expand our understanding of the sea and the mysteries that lie beneath its surface. He is now working to help inspire the next generation of explorers who will continue deep-ocean scientific research to explore the alien landscape underneath the water’s surface.

Delivering the keynote speech at Rogers State University’s annual Herrington Lecture on Feb. 21, Ballard urged educators to provide good role models within mathematics and sciences.

“Don’t sell kids on math. Sell them on the cool people who are doing really cool things using math,” he said. He told the audience he tries to provide his youngest students with real-life examples of people they could be in 20 years.

As part of that outreach mission, Ballard has helped create the JASON Project, which has allowed hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren worldwide to join him during these deep-sea explorations utilizing state-of-the-art telecommunications systems. Also joining Ballard at the event was Dr. Eleanor Smalley, executive vice president and COO for the project.

Best known for his 1985 discovery of the Titanic, Ballard has succeeded in tracking down numerous other significant shipwrecks, including the German battleship Bismarck, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the U.S. aircraft carrier Yorktown (sunk in the World War II Battle of Midway), and John F. Kennedy’s boat, PT-109.

While those discoveries have captured the imagination of the public, Ballard believes his most important discoveries were of hydrothermal vents and “black smokers” in the Galapagos Rift and East Pacific Rise in 1977 and 1979 along with their exotic life forms living off the energy of the Earth through a process now called chemosynthesis.

Born in Wichita, Ballard shared with the audience his unlikely path to becoming an oceanographer. He moved to California at a young age, where he grew up exploring the shore in San Diego. During that time, he told his parents that when he grew up, he wanted to be Captain Nemo from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

“To my parents’ credit, they didn’t laugh. And the important thing to take away from this is: Never laugh at your children’s dreams, no matter how outlandish they are,” he said.

During his career, he spent 30 years at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he helped develop telecommunications technology that underpins the JASON Project. In 2001, he returned to the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island where he is presently a tenured professor of Oceanography and director of the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography.

With more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface covered by ocean, there are remarkable opportunities for exploration in the coming years thanks to the advances in technologies.

“Your generation will explore more of the earth than all other previous generations combined,” he said.

Ballard noted during his remarks that half of the U.S.’s land holdings lay underneath the ocean surface, thanks to the 1983 Law of the Sea Convention that extended the country’s jurisdiction 200 nautical miles from shore. Most of those holdings are around Hawaii, Alaska and U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean.

Following the lecture, Ballard took a moment to sign autographs and meet with students from Claremont Elementary School, a Claremore school that RSU has adopted as its educational partner. The university also welcomed students from area high schools, including Claremore, Foyil, Oologah, Owasso, Skiatook and Verdigris.

Members of RSU’s Honors Program, President’s Leadership Class and Geosciences Club also participated in the luncheon lecture.

For more information on Ballard’s projects, visit