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Going deep - very deep - for answers

The Nereus
The Whiting School of Engineering's Louis Whitcomb led a team in the development of the Nereus, a vessel designed to explore the deepest depths of the ocean. In May 2009, the Nereus dove to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. (Photo by Christopher Griner, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.)


Louis Whitcomb is not satisfied with what's just on the surface. He and his students have a desire to investigate deeper - deeper than anyone has gone before.

Whitcomb, a professor in the Whiting School of Engineering, researches new methods for robots to extend human reach into extreme environments. Unlike Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, who commanded the fictional crew of the Nautilus 20,000 leagues under the Sea, Whitcomb's uninhabited underwater robot Nereus explores the ocean floor autonomously or remotely controlled by a human pilot.

The Nereus
Listen to Louis Whitcomb
discuss his research as
part of the Great Ideas
podcast series

In May 2009, Nereus dove 6.8 miles into the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean, under remote-control from a surface ship. Nereus endured 1,100 times the pressure of the Earth's surface and temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius. Secured to the ship by a fiber-optic tether, Nereus sent live video from the ocean floor to researchers on board the ship while gathering biological and geological samples for scientists aboard Nereus's mother ship.

Joining their professor on the expedition were JHU doctoral student Sarah Webster, postdoctoral fellow Stephen Martin, former doctoral student James Kinsey and former postdoctoral fellow Michael Jakuba. Johns Hopkins undergraduate Hunter Brown and doctoral students Chistopher McFarland and Giancarlo Troni contributed to Nereus's engineering prior to and during the expedition. This Johns Hopkins team led the development of Nereus's navigation and control system.

Only two other vehicles had previously reached the Mariana Trench - none since 1998. The entire at-sea Nereus team co-signed a memorial marker that Nereus placed at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The Nereus development is a collaboration of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Johns Hopkins University, and the U.S. Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.

The "classrooms" of the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering have no boundaries and can extend as far - or as deep - as necessary. Students have the opportunity to work on investigations in many fields, such as Whitcomb's exploration of the Mariana Trench. The Whiting School of Engineering houses 17 research centers and institutes where students can gain hands-on experience using state-of-the-art technology while working with world-renowned faculty. It also boasts the nation's largest part-time graduate engineering program geared toward working professionals seeking to advance their careers.

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