Bell Museum features interactive broadcast

by Elizabeth Putnam

After Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic in 1986 he faced another daunting challenge: responding to thousands of inquiries about his expedition from curious school children.

Inspired by their curiosity, Ballard created the JASON project, an interactive and live portal to remote places such as the Galapagos Islands.

In a one-hour live broadcast at the University’s Bell Museum of Natural History, children can receive tours of the Alaskan landscape, lessons in native culture and an in-depth look into Alaskan wildlife.

If they’re lucky, students might even get to see a dissection of a harbor seal’s brain and learn about the formation of glaciers.

“By taking advantage of cutting-edge communications technology and bringing science to life, the JASON Project is helping to revolutionize the way science is taught,” Ballard said. “That is good news not only for our students but for our country.”

Although the project caters to children, University students can explore the museum to learn about possible science careers, said Carol Birtzer, the museum’s distance learning coordinator.

“It does the same thing for older students as it does for younger,” Birtzer said. “It shows that the career opportunities are more than just lab work.”

The project has been a part of the Bell Museum since 1990, JASON’s second year in existence.

“We were a part of its foundation and (the program has) been growing ever since,” said Mary Kosuth, Bell Museum distant learning specialist.

The first JASON Project began in 1989 when students used a two-way satellite audio system to discover the first hydrothermal vents in the Mediterranean Sea and to examine an ancient Roman shipwreck.

The project incorporates students, teachers, researchers and experts. Student argonauts are chosen in a competitive national application process, Kosuth said.

Over the past 13 years, the project has traveled to locations ranging from Belize to Hawaii. JASON XIV will be held on the Channel Islands off the coast of California.

Although the project and its research last for one year, the live broadcasts only run from Jan. 28 through Feb. 8.

In conjunction with JASON XIII, the Bell Museum is hosting ScienceFest 2002 on Feb. 2, providing access to the entire museum as well as to two live JASON broadcasts.

University faculty will also participate, providing expertise in astronomy, entomology, natural resources and medicine.

Entomology graduate student Jennifer Zaspel said the day allows her to provide outreach and education to schoolchildren.

All events are free for University faculty, staff and students.