Featured Lunchtime Speaker for
Science, Technology & Engineering Day
FOR LOUDOUN COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Friday, April 8, 2011
9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Dr. Robert D. Ballard
Explorer and Oceanographer
Dr. Robert Ballard is an Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society. He is widely acclaimed for revolutionizing undersea exploration through the development of remotely operated submersibles capable of working at expedition sites miles below the surface.
On one of his most famous expeditions, Dr. Ballard and his team of scientists traveled to the Galapagos Islands in 1977 and discovered hot springs on the seafloor called hydrothermal vents. They found these vents brimming with life, including giant tubeworms that survive in a highly toxic environment. The tubeworms subsist on bacteria, which convert the poisonous chemicals from the vents into food. This chemical-based food-making process is referred to as chemosynthesis. Until Dr. Ballard and his team learned about tubeworms, scientists thought all life depended upon photosynthesis, the energy of sunlight.
Finding hydrothermal vents also led Dr. Ballard and his expedition team to determine the chemistry of the ocean water. They learned that ocean water is cycled through the Earth's crust, changing its mineral composition in the process. The water goes down through cracks in the Earth's crust until it hits very hot rock. It becomes superheated and dissolves minerals from the rocks, then shoots up through the hydrothermal vents back into the ocean. This helped finally solve the question: Why is ocean water salty?
Dr. Ballard also ventured on the first manned exploration of the Mid-Ocean Ridge and discovered polymetallic sulfides, high temperature "black smokers," and warm water springs and their unusual animal communities in the Galapagos Rift.
In addition to RMS Titanic, his famous shipwreck discoveries include the luxury liner Lusitania, the German battleship Bismarck, the U.S.S. Yorktown, John F. Kennedy's PT109, and 11 warships from World War II's lost fleet of Guadalcanal.
Dr. Ballard has received many awards, including:
- 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award - National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
- 2006 Distinguished Achievement Award - Society of Exploration Geophysicists
- 2004 Geological Society of America Public Service Award
- 2003 National Endowment for Humanities Award
- 2001 Lindbergh Award
- 2000 Commonwealth Award
- 1998 Lockheed-Martin MTS Award for Ocean Science and Engineering
- 1996 The Hubbard Medal, National Geographic's Highest Honor
- 1992 United States Navy Robert Dexter Award for Scientific Achievement
- 1990 American Geological Institute Award
- 1990 Westinghouse American Association for the Advancement of Science Award
- 1988 National Geographic Society Centennial Award
- 1987 Discover Magazine Scientist of the Year