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Project Descriptions

Using media and technology to advance public awareness of research on microscopic larvae in the deep ocean

August 1, 2022 - July 31, 2025

Few people realize that the largest part of our planet’s biosphere remains virtually unexplored and unknown. This enormous habitat, accounting for an area of 116 million square miles or the equivalent size of roughly 30 times the area of the United States, is the abyssal zone of the deep ocean. The abyssal sea floor, at about 6000 ft., contains more than four times as much habitat for animal life as all of the dry mountains, forests, deserts, plains and jungles combined. Microscopic larvae in the deep ocean, are essential for the renewal and replenishment of life and they repopulate areas damaged by human activities such as mining and trawling, and they make marine protected areas both feasible and important. The National Science Foundation has funded intensive studies of oceanography related to larval recruitment for decades. However, findings from this large NSF investment of personnel, technology and funding have never been widely presented to the public. This project proposes to remedy this by developing a 40 minute giant screen film to be shown in science centers across the country, supported by virtual reality and augmented reality learning tools. The film will cover select deep ocean science expeditions using the deep-sea vehicles Alvin and ROV Jason. Content will include elements of the research process, activities related to the design and operation of deep-sea vehicles as well as interviews with scientists and technologists. The companion activities, Deep-Ocean Pilot (a VR-360° viewing station) and Plankton Quest (an AR biology treasure hunt) will extend the audience experience of the deep ocean out of the giant screen theater and into the surrounding museum environment. The website and social media will extend awareness and resources into homes. The project will be appropriate for a broad general audience, with particular appeal for the target audience of women and girls (ages 7-20). The larval biologist team is led by the PI at the University of Oregon, in collaboration with scientists from North Carolina State University, Western Washington University and the University of Rhode Island. Several young women scientists will be featured in the film providing role models. The production company, Stephen Low Productions, Inc. will use the latest technology on the Alvin and other cinematic tools to capture the visual images in the abyss. Collaborating museums will participate in the development and implementation of the Virtual and Augmented Reality learning tools as well as showing the film in their theaters.

Broader impact project goals include 1) Advancing public awareness of the abyssal ocean, the role of microscopic larvae, and what scientists are learning from expeditions that use deep submergence technologies; 2) Introducing public audiences and young women specifically to the wide range of STEM-related occupations encompassed in the field of ocean exploration and research; and 3) Advancing STEM learning research and practice in the area of immersive media in conveying STEM concepts and enhancing audience identification with STEM. Oregon State University’s STEM Research Center will build new knowledge by conducting formative and summative evaluation of the film and its associated support products (e.g., Virtual and augmented reality activities, website resources), addressing the following evaluation questions: 1)What do audiences take away from their experience in terms of fascination/interest, awareness and understanding related to ocean science exploration? 2) To what degree does the film alone or in combination with supplemental experiences trigger career awareness in girls and young women, and youth of racial/ethnic backgrounds? 3) To what degree do immersive experiences (a sense of “being there”) contribute to learning from the film? 4) How enduring are outcomes with audiences past the onsite immediate experience? Formative evaluation will be designed as ongoing improvement informed by empirical evidence in which evaluators work with team members to answer decision-relevant questions in a timely and project-focused way. The summative evaluation will be structured as an effectiveness study using mixed methods and ascertaining whether key programmatic outcomes have been reached and the degree to which particular program elements will have contributed to the results.


Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2215692
Funding Amount: $2,999,944.00


  • Craig Young
    Principal Investigator
    University of Oregon Eugene
  • Alexander Low
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Stephen Low
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • George von Dassow
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Trish Mace
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Discipline: Ecology, forestry, and agriculture | Life science
    Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Adults | General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Scientists
    Environment Type: Media and Technology | Films and IMAX
    Access and Inclusion: Women and Girls

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