Students from Northwest Suburban High School District 214 who are part of the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps will use underwater remotely operated vehicles known as SeaPerch to study Lake Michigan.
They are among Chicago area students in the Navy Junior Reserve's program integrating science, technology, engineering and math in the study of the lake.
Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and managed by the Association of Underwater Vehicles International, the SeaPerch program provides students with kits comprised of the resources they need to build a remotely operated vehicle.
While students mainly design and build the vehicle to compete on underwater courses set in swimming pools, the NJROTC students are modifying their SeaPerch design to collect water samples for research from Lake Michigan.
"Our cadets are taking the STEM concept one step further," said District 214 Naval Science Instructor retired Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Morse. "Not only are they designing a vehicle to operate in open water, off a naval vessel, and in murky conditions, but they also have to meet with researchers to determine what data is needed, how to use it, and how to present it."
Cadets will meet with representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, U. S. Geological Survey, and the Lake Michigan Biological Station to discuss "real world" needs.
"This is not just a project for future engineers and scientists, but for future business and community leaders who will need to solve real-world problems," Morse said. "The creative process of students meeting with mentors about research, designing a system to fill a need, and constructing the vehicles may be more significant than the data we end up collecting, but that's the beauty of STEM."
Although the project initially was to be a one-school effort, this summer the team enlisted the aid of the STEM team from Chicago's Westinghouse High School and other NJROTC units training on the Marine Navigation and Training Association's 80-foot watercraft, the MANATRA, an ex-Navy training vessel maintained by association volunteers.
District 214 had just received its SeaPerch kits when the MANATRA became available to check the SeaPerch compatibility with vessel operations. The Westinghouse team volunteered to bring aboard their SeaPerch, which they had used in competitions and they allowed cadets from various units to operate it.
The experience provided an opportunity for cadets to note design changes that will be needed to operate in Lake Michigan. Cadets from Taft, Rickover Naval Academy, and Richards NJROTC units are joining the District 214 and Westinghouse NJROTC in designing an "open water" SeaPerch to operate off the MANATRA.