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Student-Built Underwater Camera Documents Sea Life In Antarctic Waters

Under the direction of their teacher, who had been sent to Antarctica as part of the National Science Foundation-funded Polar Teachers and Educators Exploring and Collaborating (PolarTREC) program under the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS), four students have built an underwater camera device for studying several species of fish in Antarctic Peninsula.

After several years of designing and building remotely operated vehicles for regional competitions, Liliana Diaz, Francisco Flores, Miguel Limon and Raymond Thicklin, high school students at Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago, and their instructor Paula Dell, envisioned an apparatus comprising a miniature video camera encased in a metal cage attached to a long cable that could be dragged behind a research ship to capture the sea life below the surface.

After researching materials, the team created an aluminum device rugged enough to withstand the frozen waters of the Antarctic. Fish Spy, as the team named it, was then equipped with specialized video equipment donated by Lights Camera Action, an underwater lighting and camera manufacturer that sponsors Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) competitions for schools in the United States and Canada. The video recorder, which is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, allows viewing in real time and can also record and save video to a microSD card.

After trial runs in the school pool, Lake Michigan, and a launch from the deck of the Laurence M. Gould, a National Science Foundation (NSF)research vessel, in which the conditions proved to be too harsh, Fish Spy was eventually deployed from an inflatable Zodiac in calmer waters around Palmer Station, a year-round NSF-operated research station in Antartica.

Fish Spy was able to successfully capture images of Antarctic fish and other bottom-dwelling organisms, including limpets and sea stars. The device was also able to obtain underside images of small icebergs known as "bergy bits," as well as footage of the sunken wreck of the Bahia Paraiso, an Argentine polar transporter that ran aground near the Palmer Station in 1989.

Images and video footage from the Fish Spy expedition have been added to PolarTREC learning resources, a collection of scientific and educational materials compiled by ARCUS.

For more information about the expedition and to view the images obtained by Fish Spy, visit the

Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy is one of 10 selective university preparatory enrollment high schools in the Chicago Public School system. Located in the West Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, the school enrolls approximately 1,077 students.

About the Author

Sharleen Nelson is a freelance journalist based in Springfield, Oregon. She can be reached at

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