The discoverer of the wreck of the doomed ocean liner Titanic brought the wonder and challenge of undersea exploration to Scottsdale youths Thursday, but they won't have to wear deep-diver suits or board submarines to experience it.
It will all be via the Internet.
Robert Ballard visited the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale's Vestar branch to introduce the Immersion Presents program, an interactive experience.
The branch, whose partnership with Arizona State University has provided the club access to an Internet2 network, is the only one in the United States that has access to telepresencing, a technology that brings live video streamed directly from the Internet.
Ballard is the famed oceanographer and discoverer of the wrecks of the Titanic, which sank in the Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage in 1912, and of President John F. Kennedy's U.S. Navy vessel, the PT-109, which was sunk by the Japanese during World War II.
Ballard spoke to members of the clubs and youth from neighboring schools about his experiences, expeditions and goals for the program.
"My hope is to get more American kids to consider careers in science," he said. "We live in a star-based country. If you're not a superstar, you're a nobody. We want the stars to be scientists, teachers and kids who want to pursue those careers."
Immersion Presents is the first of a series of science and exploration programs that will be available to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale because of their alliance with ASU. Other Boys and Girls Clubs across the country may also take part in the Immersion Presents program through delayed satellite feeds or the Internet.
Ballard said he developed the idea for the program after discovering the Titanic. "I received 16,000 letters from kids after the discovery," Ballard said.
"The letters said, 'I want to do what you're doing,' and in response, I told the kids to study hard and go to college. Their second question was always, 'Can I go with you next time?' and the idea to use robotics to share the experience with kids began to form."
The youngsters will soon be able to watch undersea action around the clock when the nation's first designated ship of exploration, which will be connected via Internet2 to the classroom, sets sail.
Ballard said the ship's mission is to go places no one has gone before. "The telepresencing from the ship will allow the kids to go on field trips all over, all the time," he said. "We want to introduce kids to places they might otherwise never get to go. The sky is the limit."
Immersion's Adventure Series is based on a series of science lessons developed from Ballard's field expeditions and his ongoing oceanic voyages that take him on expeditions for months at a time.
The Immersion Presents program is a nonprofit science education organization that brings ocean adventures and discoveries from the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration, the University of Rhode Island and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to kids in classrooms, after-school settings and information learning arenas, Ballard said.
The program was founded in 2002 by Ballard and Stephen Coan in an effort to ignite children's interest in discovery and learning by exposing them to ongoing scientific missions.
Ballard said the objective is to encourage youth to consider careers in science, mathematics, literacy and "green" initiatives while using technology to explore the world's natural resources.
"America has a great maritime history," he said. "My goal is to get these kids to perpetuate our strength and motivate them to study and go that extra mile so they can benefit our economy and carry on our standard of living. Most of all, I want these kids to be better aware of the planet on which they live."
The public can also follow the expedition online at www.immersionpresents.com to experience 100-foot kelp forests, study endangered marine mammals and take a trip into the deep sea aboard an NOAA research vessel.
According to its Web site, www.bgcs.org, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Scottsdale since 1954 have provided more than 100,000 East Valley youths with a positive, supervised environment to explore their potential, said Soilo Felix, director of education technology for the clubs.
"We are hoping to share the educational benefits of these programs with children of all ages," Felix said.
The clubs offer after-school and summer programs emphasizing five core areas: the arts, character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, and sports, fitness and recreation.
The Vestar Branch opened in 2007 at 3975 E. Lockwood Drive, Phoenix.