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NewsAug 29, 2017

Amy Fleischer ’15 selected to explore ocean floor

Lesley alumna helped explore deep-sea biology, geology and archaeology with famed explorer Dr. Robert Ballard in the Pacific.

Exploration Vessel Nautilus at sea

Whale Falls, Paleo Shorelines and Shivers of Prickly Sharks

Amy Fleischer’s Nauset Regional Middle School students know one thing for sure: what their teacher did on her summer vacation. In fact, they could watch her activities online. In July, Fleischer spent three weeks as a communications fellow on the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus as it explored the sea floor off the coast of California. The ship was specifically stationed around the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The live feed from the boat provided students and others with real-time video and explanations of the activities of the scientists and instruments aboard.

Amy Fleischer aboard the Nautilus
Fleischer aboard the Nautilus

Fleischer, a 2015 graduate of Lesley’s M.Ed. in Middle School Science program, was among a select group of educators chosen to be on the voyage. She was a lead science communications fellow, meaning that she helped with all communications coming from the boat, including narration of the live feed. She helped create conversation between those controlling the remote underwater exploratory vehicles to explain to the world what was happening and took questions live. The feed was broadcast live to schools and museums around the world. From shivers (schools) of prickly sharks, seen over marine canyons in the Pacific, to whale falls—when a whale dies and falls to the ocean floor—Fleischer could help explain what people were seeing.

The goal of the mission Fleischer took part in was to find out more about the geology of the sea floor and the coastline, using technology that allows high-resolution mapping. They looked for signs of paleo shorelines—ancient coastline—through examining caves, valleys, boulders, arches and other formations. As the Nautilus website states, seafloor mapping and geological characteristics of the seafloor will help guide the sanctuary in “resource protection issues including incident response and restoration, protected resource and fisheries management, navigational safety and conservation.”

Exploration Vessel Nautilus at sea
The Exploration Vessel Nautilus (credit: Ocean Exploration Trust, Inc)

Also on Board: ROV Hercules, ROV Argus and Robert Ballard, Deep Sea Explorer

The Nautilus’s lead scientist is Dr. Robert Ballard, who is a renowned deep-sea explorer who discovered the location of the downed ships Titanic and Bismarck, as well as other shipwrecks around the world. Ballard is also the founder of the Ocean Exploration Trust, which is centered on scientific exploration of the sea floor, plus he received an honorary doctorate from Lesley in 2005. Also on board were two Remotely Operated Vehicles, or ROVs, that were crucial in mapping the sea caves and canyon walls that humans couldn’t get to, using new vertical mapping technology developed at the University of Rhode Island. ROVs Hercules and Argus could also get samples, collect animals and send back video.

As part of the July team aboard the boat, Fleischer was impressed not only by Ballard’s scientific knowledge and experience, but by his attention to cultivating the next generation of scientists. “He is excited about fostering early-career ocean professionals. There is an internship track for all jobs on the boat and some people come back for several years.” She goes on to say that Ballard is also fostering women in science, with a goal of having 55 percent of science-related jobs going to women. “Then, girls and young women can look at pictures of women scientists and say, ‘I see me — I see someone who looks like me.’”

Taking it All Back to the Classroom, and Infusing Science with Art

Fleischer was excited to share her experiences with her students back on outer Cape Cod. “All of the work we were doing matches to the Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering standards for seventh and eighth graders.” She has first-hand knowledge to impart about Earth science, climate, volcanoes and earthquakes, ocean science, the meaning of biodiversity, Cartesian methods and more. “At least half of the standards I have I could bring directly into the classroom.”

As an example of a recent lesson plan, Fleischer posed this question to her Grade 8 Advanced Science students: how did the Earth's surface get the shape it has today? Her Grade 8 Advanced Science class, she says, “built and presented 3-dimensional models that demonstrated how convection currents in the magma create mid-ocean ridges, deep sea trenches, volcanic chains, and mountain ranges. Later, exploration of a museum gallery of these models helped the students to compare and contrast these processes in a writing exercise. Mapping the locations of these landforms around the world and comparing them to maps of mineral deposits helped students transition into a lesson on chemistry and mineral formation.”

Fleischer was also interested using art and creativity to strengthen the lesson. “Before we built our models, Philadelphia-based Rebecca Rutstein (, was invited to participate in a video call with our classroom to help us explore the connection between art and science. Rebecca is inspired by scientific data, geology, and seafloor mapping to create paintings, sculptures, and installations. Rebecca spoke passionately about the evolution of her work during her time as an artist-in-residence in Hawaii, the Canadian Rockies, Iceland, and her collaboration with scientists on board the E/V Nautilus in the Galapagos Islands and the E/V Falkor in Tahiti as she shared a slideshow of her work.”

While aboard the Nautilus, Rebecca “let paint flow onto canvas with the motion of the ship and then superimposed bathymetric maps of the ocean floor, generated by multi-beam sonar mapping, onto the paintings.” Students had previously watched a video of Rebecca working on board the Nautilus and and had submitted questions to her ahead of time. They were able to speak with her during the call.

Reflecting on the interaction, students wrote:

"This interview made me think about how creative and intelligent I can be. When she shared her inspirations and pieces of art work, I was inspired by her. She made me think that I can do anything, and think out-of-the-box to make my dreams come true. To see what other people do that makes them happy is amazing!"

“Her story behind how she got into this topic was inspiring and mind blowing. I still can't believe that she got to travel the world and see all these cool features and paint them as part of her schooling and internships. She has given me some ideas about the world under us and created some ideas in my head for my own project.”

"This made me think about how science can be related to so many things one may never think of. Also it makes me think that I should always keep what I learn about science in school with me for later in life because it could have an impact on what I love to do."

Fleischer’s Message to Other Teachers: You Should Go, Too!

In her master’s program student teaching seminar in 2015, Fleischer got notification of the opportunity to join the Nautilus through the Ocean Exploration Trust. She used her background in environmental science to investigate how to integrate math and engineering into science curriculum, and created lesson plans that she submitted with her application. After an interview, she was chosen. This wasn't Fleischer's first time at sea: In 2015, she went to the Gulf of Mexico to study how methane bubbles moved, with the goal of creating a model of how petroleum might in the ocean, to find better ways of reacting more quickly to contain an oil spill. She has loved her exploration time.

“I urge other teachers to try this. The application is available in September and due in January. If you’re passionate about science, this is a fantastic opportunity.”