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High school students in Santa Cruz build Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles for Ocean Experiments

Mount Madonna School Engineering Club Students Build Underwater ROVs for Ocean Experiments
Mount Madonna School
Mount Madonna School Engineering Club Students Build Underwater ROVs for Ocean Experiments

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) Mount Madonna School Engineering Club students built an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to explore the ocean floors of Catalina Island.

Before the pandemic, the school's Engineering Club used to take a trip to Catalina Island in the spring. Because the 2020 and 2021 trip was canceled due to COVID-related restrictions, the trip was postponed to the fall. This year, days before the trip, 13 students worked during their lunch breaks and over the weekend to build the underwater camera-enabled robot that would allow them to explore the ocean off the island's shore.

“We are testing to make sure that all of the pieces are correctly soldered onto the motherboard,” said junior Sam Kaplan, who was helping classmate Cecily Kelly and senior Liana Kitchel to prepare components for the ROV control boxes. 

“This part is no more difficult than building with Legos,” commented senior Addy Catterall-Pendleton, holding a completed motor and propeller unit in his hands. 

During their trip, students will use the ROVs to collect data at a remote area of Catalina Island where the school has been studying for 10 years. This includes observing the ecosystems along the shoreline and reef systems, according to one of the teachers and co-leaders Lisa Catterall. Catterall adds that students will have time to test the ROV in Little Fisherman Cove and use them on other sites on the island.

Students usually observe and record behaviors from several animals that live near the island like leopard sharks, Catalina gobies, Pacific octopus and other kelp forest species. These ROVs will allow students to explore the animal's habitats without disturbing them too much.

“Physical oceanography focuses on the physical and chemical properties of the ocean, including currents, tides and topography, and more directly the biological and engineering activities we engage the students in during our Catalina trip,” the student's professor Dr. Nicole Tervalon said who holds a Ph. D. in oceanographic engineering from M.I.T. “The ocean has a major impact on all our lives."

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