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Photo: Michael Nichols

Becoming Jane: Nat Geo Shows the World Through Goodall’s Eyes, Ends With Call to Action

National Geographic Explorers – scientists, conservationists, educators and storytellers – have been responsible for unearthing and communicating some of the world’s greatest discoveries for more than 130 years. Among the most famous and beloved of these explorers is Jane Goodall, whose legacy is close to unrivaled when it comes to both scientific discovery and ongoing activism.

This year, while the 85-year-old Goodall continues to travel the world urging people to join the conservation movement, the National Geographic Society is partnering with the Jane Goodall Institute to honor her legacy and provide public engagement opportunities that align with Goodall’s mission.

“Becoming Jane,” which tells the story of the primatologist’s early years as an explorer, opens at the National Geographic Museum on November 22. The immersive exhibition will remain installed for 10 months before touring up to five additional cities around the country and then going international.

“Jane is such a beautiful example of a scientist who has made great contributions to knowledge, but is also so inspirational and impactful,” said Kathryn Keane, vice president of public experiences for the National Geographic Society and executive director of the National Geographic Museum. “She is really in some ways the perfect example of a National Geographic Explorer.”

Many people are familiar with Goodall’s work once she established herself as a primatologist and champion of chimpanzees. But Keane said for this exhibit, it was important to chronicle the whole journey from girlhood, animal-loving Goodall to the world-class researcher who changed our understanding of our closest living relatives to the activist she is today.

Visitors will enter the exhibit to a short overview film, then move through Goodall’s war-torn childhood and her 20s, when she wanted to move to Africa.

“For a 20-year-old woman in the late 1950s to be thinking about that was a radical idea – particularly a woman who didn’t have money or a lot of education,” Keane noted.

Items and images from the Jane Goodall Institute archives that have never been featured in films or books about Goodall will be on display. There will be a replica of the research tent complete with cots that Goodall spent her first intrepid months in – shared with her mother, who chaperoned the burgeoning scientist’s first expedition.

From there, visitors can interact with a hologram of Goodall before entering a 270-degree, 3-D immersive theater that will take them on a journey through Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. Entries from her journal reveal the story of her discovery of animal intelligence in real time. And of course, no Goodall exhibit would be complete without an opportunity to practice chimpanzee vocalizations.

“The following section is a bit darker,” Keane elaborated. “It brings us through the time when Jane realizes the world – and chimps – are in trouble. There is tension between what humans need and what animals need, and a big part of the mission at National Geographic is about finding ways to [reconcile this].”

Goodall made a stop in the District this September and spoke with urgency to two sold-out audiences at The Anthem.

“I’m trying to tell people what’s happening in the world and the mess we’ve made, and the fact that unless we all get together and take action soon, it may be too late,” she said. “The window of time is closing, and it’s not enough just to wave placards. We must take action.”

Fittingly, “Becoming Jane” ends with a call to action and pledge station. Keane says that this is an integral part of the exhibit because National Geographic’s goal is for people to come away from the experience not feeling overwhelmed by crisis, but rather empowered and encouraged to follow in Goodall’s footsteps.

When the primatologist spoke to DC audiences this fall, she humbly reinforced the power of teaching by doing and leading by example.

“There are some world leaders who are so caught up in feathering their own nests and pandering to big business [and] shareholders [that] we’re caught up in a vicious cycle of corruption and materialistic distance from the natural world,” Goodall explained. “The only way to get to anybody isn’t by shouting at them [or] getting angry. It’s by somehow finding a way to reach the heart.”

She also spoke to the simple path she took in her career: she was once just a young woman with a desire to learn about animals who became an icon by vehemently following her passion.

“I don’t think it’s that difficult if you know exactly what you want to do and you go ahead and do it – and you have the facts to back it up,” Goodall told the audience. “There’s a growing number of women who are doing things that were never done before, and those who succeed seem to be the ones who are really passionate about what they do. They’re not aggressive. They’re just gentle about it and prove by their actions and what they’ve done that they can do it. Don’t accept me because I’m a woman. Accept me because of the value of what I’ve done.”

But perhaps the most encouraging thing about Goodall is her capacity for hope. When asked how she maintains that hope in the face of all she has seen, she pointed to the individuals and communities who have taken their own personal pledges seriously – altering their own actions and taking advantage of programs and projects like those Goodall now sponsors to make broader impact.

The National Geographic exhibition will be augmented by educational programming, including dissemination of a weeklong science and conservation-oriented curriculum for teachers who are then invited to bring their students to the museum.

“One of our goals is to inspire the next Jane Goodall, to get people to understand these are fields that people can actually go into and we want to give kids an idea of the kind of careers that are possible,” Keane said. “That’s the kind of grassroots, viral approach to conservation that is ultimately going to work best.”

“Becoming Jane” opens at the National Geographic Museum on November 22. Tickets are $15. Learn more about the exhibit at www.nationalgeographic.org/events and the Jane Goodall Institute at www.janegoodall.org.

National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org/events

National Geographic’s Queens of Egypt: Women Who Ruled the Ancient World

The ancient Egypt you know is a lie. It’s a golden, glittering myth created by Hollywood as an excuse to parade Elizabeth Taylor around draped in gold and makeup. The ancient world could not have been so divorced from the Egypt of my youth: dusty, hot, poor and filled with people who aren’t white.

One exhibit in DC this year is setting the record straight.

The National Geographic Museum is hosting an exhibit on the Queens of Egypt in DC until September 2, and Nat Geo researchers have taken a more nuanced approach to discussing women rulers in ancient Egypt.

The way ancient Egypt exists in the collective Western imagination is not actually how it existed at all. According to National Geographic Egyptologist and author of When Women Ruled the World, Kara Cooney, real life in the ancient world was extraordinarily hard.

“The reality was very different,” Cooney says. “We’re talking about people with a much darker skin color to be sure – people of a North African descent – and a place that, while opulent for a few, was much more real for others in terms of a hard life: constant labor, farming, parasites, diseases, life expectancy at the age of 30.”

The myth probably started with Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. For all of his contributions to literature, the Bard portrayed Egypt as little more than a place to get a tan and cheat on your wife.

So even though there was more to life in ancient Egypt, at least we are right in feeling empowered by its female rulers. Right? Well, it’s more complicated than the “You go, girl” mentality we tend to adopt when talking about Egypt’s queens.

Although some women were able to attain the highest positions of power in Egypt, they still ruled and existed within a rigid, unforgiving patriarchal society. Many queens were simply holding the throne until the rightful king – a son, nephew or brother – was old enough to assume it.

And while each queen ruled differently – facing different challenges, accomplishing different goals and failing in different ways – their entire existence as a ruler was in service of a system that would hand power to the appropriate male as soon as he was old enough.

“There were some women who could surmount the obstacles in their path of being a woman in a patriarchal society, but there was not one woman who was a feminist who was going to move the system in a different direction,” Cooney says. “There was no way of thinking in that way in the ancient world.”

The West likes to think of Cleopatra as the most empowered of queens – even Cooney describes her as the least traditional. But her relationships with Roman warlords, which long ago captured the Western man’s imagination, were intended to solidify her power. And by getting involved with Rome, she invited their violence and civil war into Egypt, Cooney says.

“She’s brought herself into that realm so one can ask: is that Cleopatra knowing she needs a man, a male presence by her side, and looking to the strongest man in her political arena and getting herself in trouble by drawing a target on her back?”

The fact that Cleopatra is the queen cemented in our minds is quite revealing. Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt from 1479-1425 BC, was arguably the most successful queen.

Hatshepsut assumed the throne as regent on behalf of her infant stepson after her husband’s death. After just five years, she was crowned pharaoh. She was such a successful ruler that she was often depicted with masculine features, including a beard as a symbol of her power.

According to Cooney, the queens we can name tell us a lot about how we treat women in power. The ones who succeed have their womanhood erased. The ones who fail are immortalized as a warning against vice and promiscuity.

“One succeeded and one failed. One is forgotten and one is remembered. And I like those comparisons. They’re very useful for us to see what we do to the female who is a failure. [We] make her a cautionary tale. And what do we do to the [successful queen]? Just erase her.”

If learning about the queens of ancient Egypt with all their complexities and flaws sounds more interesting than watching Elizabeth Taylor make eyes at white men for four hours, then check out the National Geographic Museum’s Queens of Egypt exhibit.

The exhibit is open daily until September 2 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12 and can be purchased online or at the museum until 5 p.m. Learn more about the exhibit at
www.nationalgeographic.org/events/exhibition/queens-egypt.

National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org

Photo: Courtesy of National Geographic

Explorer Jodi Magness Discusses Discoveries of Ancient Israel

From age 12, Jodi Magness knew she wanted to be an archaeologist, and never looked back.

Thursday she’ll discuss one of her many discoveries, a mosaic depicting the first non-Biblical story ever found decorating an ancient synagogue. She’s set to speak about her findings and why they matter at the National Geographic Museum in two sessions of a talk titled, “Uncovering Galilee: New Discoveries in the Holy Land.”

Magness and other archaeologists debate what story the mosaic, which features two men surrounded by soldiers and battle elephants, tells. One theory suggests the image shows the encounter between Alexander the Great and the Jewish high priest. (Explore pictures of the mosaic at this link.)

Since 2011, and thanks to a National Geographic grant, Magness and her team have been excavating the synagogue in the fifth-century village of Huqoq, three miles west of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. The synagogue is the only public building in the settlement, whose residents largely practiced agriculture.

Ancient Huqoq was not a rich urban center, but had a stunningly beautiful synagogue – what gives?

Written documents indicate that synagogues like the one at Huqoq did not exist. Roman legislation at the time – Christianity had already become the empire’s religion – banned construction of new synagogues. Some Christian writers wrote polemics attacking Judaism. As a result, a narrative developed in which Jews in this time and region lived a marginalized, oppressed existence. Magness’ research pushes back against that monolithic conception.

In doing so, Magness explains, her work demonstrates the importance of her field.

“Archaeology supplements the rather skewed and narrow picture that we have just from literary sources,” she says. “Literary sources from the ancient world were always written by elite people and represent a certain point of view.”

“Archaeology is a great corrective” to elite-produced literary sources, Magness continues. “Archaeology is a democratic enterprise [because we] dig up everything, including the houses of ordinary people, which gives a much more complete picture of ancient life.”

Surviving Jewish written documents from this time were produced exclusively by male rabbis, but Magness’ research attests to the presence of women at the site as well. For example, mosaics of two women flank a dedicatory inscription at the synagogue. Magness says that the identities of the women are unknown, but it’s possible they were donors.

Other evidence of female presence is more difficult to point out directly, but is indirectly indicated. For example, ancient houses excavated around the synagogue have included remains of spindle-whorls, and weaving during this time period was primarily a female activity.

Magness says her project has uncovered about two-thirds of the synagogue. There was a significant expansion and re-use of the synagogue during medieval times, but archaeologists still don’t know what that is. This work will take another four to five seasons. More information about the project, including applications for students interesting in joining the dig, is on the Huqoq website.

Magness is not the only female Explorer the National Geographic Museum is highlighting this season. The museum will host an event titled Expand the Field in February on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which will feature women improving our understanding of the world. Then in March, the museum hosts When Women Ruled the World, tied to the opening of the museum’s next exhibition, Queens of Egypt, celebrating legendary queens from ancient Egypt.

In the words of National Geographic’s Lexie de los Santos, “I’m quite proud of this season and I hope it influences women everywhere to realize the impact they can have on our world.”

Magness speaks at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 29. Tickets are $25, and available here.

National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org/dc

Photo: Emory Kristof, National Geographic

Untold No Longer: The Story of The Titanic You’ve Never Heard

We all think we know the story of the Titanic. The world’s largest, most luxurious ocean liner sank in 1912 – a triumph of engineering transformed into unspeakable tragedy.

We now know exactly where she lies, thousands of feet below the surface off the coast of Newfoundland, but the Titanic’s location remained a mystery for 70 years. Then, her story became entwined with a modern narrative of Cold War technology, the tragedy of lost nuclear submarines and a secret mission. This is the haunting, fascinating tale at the heart of the National Geographic Museum’s new exhibit, Titanic: The Untold Story, open daily through early January.

National Geographic Explorer Robert Ballard joined the Army during the Vietnam War, but went to graduate school and got a job building submarines. One December night in 1966, he got a knock at the door from a Naval officer.

“He handed me an envelope and said, ‘You’re not in the Army anymore, you’re in the Navy,’” Ballard told On Tap in a recent interview. “That began a long career of living two different lives.”

To the public, he was a well-known oceanographer, writing articles and researching ocean geology and hydrothermal vents. But Ballard kept working with the Navy and requested funding to develop remotely operated submersibles. The Navy agreed, and assigned Ballard a mission to locate, photograph and study the final resting place of the USS Scorpion, a nuclear submarine that sank in 1968. He was to locate the submarine’s nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons, and to get evidence that would help explain her loss.

There was a problem: it was the height of the Cold War between Russia and the United States, and it was imperative that Ballard’s mission avoid drawing the attention of Soviet intelligence. What better cover story for the mission than a search for the lost wreck of the Titanic?

The Navy added research on one more submarine wreck to Ballard’s plate: the USS Thresher, a nuclear submarine that sank five years before the Scorpion. The scientist was to study both the Scorpion and the Thresher to determine if the nuclear material from both subs was impacting the environment.

Though Ballard already knew what led to the Thresher’s demise, questions about the nuclear material remained. The reason the Scorpion sank, however, was inconclusive. Still, Ballard discovered her location using a phenomenon known as the sound channel.

“There’s a special layer about 1,000 meters down where all sound is ducted. If you listen in the sound channel, you can hear noises much, much further away. And we’re pretty sure that whales figured this out a long, long time ago, and that they use it for long distance communication.”

During the Cold War, the U.S. Navy set up listening arrays in multiple parts of the ocean to detect Soviet activity and recorded whatever sounds they picked up. Ballard said the Navy used these recordings to roughly determine the location of the Scorpion.

“We thought, ‘I wonder if we heard her die?’”

Sure enough, they heard the boom as she imploded in the deep. His towed camera system, the Argo, dove to depths of 9,800 feet to find and document the remains of the Scorpion. He had figured out that ocean currents created a debris trail as the Scorpion sank and followed the trail to the wreck.

He then realized he could use the same strategy to find the Titanic. With the allotted time for his mission nearly up, he found the Titanic at the very edge of the search area. He was awed by what he saw.

“I didn’t expect to be affected by this whole thing,” he said. “I’m a scientist and a naval officer, clinically doing things. But it spoke. I was bowled over by the impact of being there.”

Pairs of shoes litter the ocean floor around the wreck, marking where people who died and sank to the bottom once rested. Because leather shoes are treated with tannic acid, sea life won’t eat them and they remain preserved.

“It’s a tombstone. Nothing is small down there. Everything’s gigantic in size, but then there are these little pairs of shoes. It draws your attention away from the massiveness and the grandeur.”
Ballard noticed them every time he went back.

“Every time I made a return trip, I always knew, I saw those shoes and I said, ‘That was somebody.’”

He recalled returning to the Titanic in 2004 with new vehicles.

“I’m sitting in my command center with a beautiful high-definition camera and a remote control robot, and I’m just staying there. For days, I wandered the Titanic. And I got closure.”

Ballard’s secret mission was quietly declassified just a few years ago. Kathryn Keane, vice president of public experiences for the National Geographic Museum, was amazed to learn that the search for the Titanic was the cover story for Ballard’s mission. National Geographic staff were even on board with Ballard during his mission, and still no one knew.

“I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t know that, and I work here,’” Keane said. “If I don’t know this story, most of the public doesn’t know, either.’”

The new exhibit skillfully blends science, history and storytelling. You begin your visit awed by the technology and the mission’s secret backstory, and end by reading the personal stories of Titanic passengers and viewing amazing recreations of the Titanic’s rooms made for James Cameron’s 1998 film Titanic, which remains one of the most successful films ever made.

It’s a moving experience. Keane noted that this is the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the Scorpion, and the losses of both submarines – the Scorpion and the Thresher – and the “unsinkable ship” have far-reaching effects.

“The layers of tragedy surrounding this story impact generations of people,” she said of the Titanic.

It’s certainly difficult to picture the loved ones of these lost crews and ship passengers waiting in vain for good news without feeling their pain. The last artifact in the exhibit is a letter from President Ronald Reagan, designating the wreck of the Titanic as a memorial site.

And though undeniably one of the most pivotal moments of his career, Ballard isn’t interested in being known solely as the discoverer of the Titanic.

“My mother called me after we found the Titanic and said, ‘It’s too bad you found that rusty old ship.’ She understood hydrothermal vents and the science I was doing, and she said, ‘Now they’re only going to remember you for that.’”

But as Titanic: The Untold Story shows, Ballard’s contributions to ocean exploration are far greater than a single mission in 1985, and the story of these three lost vessels is greater than the sum of its parts. Keane said she hopes the exhibit inspires a generation of new explorers.

“One of the things we love to do here at the museum is invite families and get young people excited about exploration and science,” she said. “The story of the Titanic is why they’ve come, but if they come out of it interested in science, exploration, even in serving their country, that would be a victory for us because that’s what we do here.”

Titanic: The Untold Story runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through January 6, 2019 at the National Geographic Museum. Tickets are $15. And don’t miss the Taste of the Titanic event on Wednesday, July 25 at 7 p.m. to experience the actual menus aboard the ship, from first-class cuisine to third-class nosh. Learn more at http://tasteoftitanic.com/

National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org/dc

 

Taste of Titanic (600px)

 

Photo: Rebecca Hale

Science, Faith, Virtual Reality and Archaeology meet at National Geographic Museum’s The Tomb of Christ

Virtual reality headsets let you explore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Three dimensional videos take you through the streets of Jerusalem. All of this is an integral part of the National Geographic Museum’s Tomb of Christ exhibit.

With rooms recreated after the church, and panels packed with text and pictures, this exhibit teaches a lot. People in, or traveling to, DC before January 2019 should not miss this chance to meet a new place of mystery, and one that’s fully relevant to today’s divided world.

The exhibit highlights conservation and renovation done by scientists from the National Technical University of Athens on the Edicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Edicule is the site within the site — a small shrine built over what’s remembered as the tomb of Jesus Christ, under the impressive dome of a large church in the Ottoman Baroque style.

The place of the Holy Sepulchre has a storied history. Over the past 2,000 years, it’s been a limestone quarry, a Jewish burial ground, a Roman temple to Venus, and multiple Christian churches—destroyed over the years by invaders and natural disasters, only to end up rebuilt. The most recent construction of the church and Edicule occurred in 1808, but the intervening 200 years have weighed heavily on the holy site.

This is where the scientists come in. Professor Antonia Moropoulou and her team have a reputation for saving historic monuments, including the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the Acropolis in Athens. Work on the Edicule, however, comes with a twist. The site is governed by the “Status Quo:” an 1852 agreement established by the Turkish sultan, when Jerusalem was under Ottoman rule, that any changes to the Edicule had to be agreed upon by unanimous decision of the six Christian orders that share the church—Greek Orthodox, Franciscan, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syrian Orthodox.

Unanimous agreement isn’t easy. The six orders recognized all the way back in 1959 that the Edicule needed restoration. Mosaics were blackened by candle smoke and the walls were weak. Church leaders agreed to renovate on two conditions: the work would not interfere with pilgrims praying at the shrine, and the project would be completed between two Easter celebrations.

Then they waited for a proposal.

And kept waiting.

More than 50 years later, in 2015, church leaders finally received an offer from Moropoulou and her team.

The project used the best in available technology, including ground-penetrating radar, radiometry and robotics. Working by night, the team pulled off a trifecta: restoring the shrine’s original brilliance, reinforcing the structural integrity of the Edicule and contributing to archaeological understanding.

For the first time in centuries—and caught on camera by the National Geographic—researchers removed the stone slab covering Jesus’ tomb. The discovery of Byzantine material confirmed for archaeologists that this same site has been remembered as the location of Jesus’ tomb at least since the fourth century. Other archaeological evidence potentially dates this worship site to the first century.

The exhibit isn’t just about the restoration work, it’s literally a consequence of it. Part of the project involved gathering billions of recorded data points through millimeter-accurate LIDAR scans. With these data researchers created a complete 3D record of the site. This same LIDAR technology that allowed scientists to restore the site is what now allows museum visitors to tour the site through virtual reality.

The exhibit deals openly and respectfully with potentially controversial material—the biggest elephant not in the room. It clearly explains what is known through science, history and archaeological evidence. It doesn’t try to confirm or criticize religious beliefs that might be associated with the site.

“The religious significance of what lies hidden beneath the polished limestone and marble slabs of the church’s Edicule remains a matter of personal faith,” one panel suggests. “But people of all faiths can appreciate the beauty and long history of this storied building.”

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre—home to six different Christian orders, visited every year by believers and nonbelievers of every kind—serves as a microcosm of the whole city of Jerusalem. The city is also home to important Jewish and Muslim sites, including the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock.

For this reason, the National Geographic Museum is also showing a film about Jerusalem the city. Although it’s separate from the Tomb of Christ exhibit (and requires a second ticket), this film provides important context to the experience. The video profiles three articulate teenage women—Jewish, Muslim and Christian. These women introduce viewers to their lives, with an emphasis on their similarities—especially their shared love of their families and city.

The exhibit can be viewed in an hour. The film lasts 40 minutes. And although the exhibit and film cost money (ticket information available at here), the museum also boasts free offerings.

National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org/dc

Photo: Fabien Cousteau

A Day in the Life: Emerging Explorer Grace Young

It all began on the Great Lakes of Ohio and Michigan. As she sailed across the open waters with her family, a pint-sized Grace Young began to develop a deep love for the water and everything in it. After she moved to DC in high school, Young took a school trip to the Chesapeake Bay that could only be described as life-changing. In this moment, she realized she couldn’t live without the calmness of the waves and the beauty of a sunrise out at sea.

So she followed her dreams. In 2017, National Geographic named Young as one of 14 Emerging Explorers, or “uniquely gifted and inspiring scientists, conservationists, storytellers and innovators” who are “already making a difference and changing the world.” As part of the program, she received a $10,000 grant to fund research for new technology to explore the ocean and save coral reefs.

On April 10, Young will host “Extreme Ocean: Exploring the Deep,” a discussion about why taking care of the ocean is so crucial to preserving life as we know it. She’ll also go into detail about her exciting 15-day adventure of living nearly 20 meters (66 feet) below sea level off the coast of the Florida Keys during Fabien Cousteau’s Mission 31. We caught up with Young before her upcoming talk about the Emerging Explorers program, protecting our coral reefs and being a former ballerina, among other things.

On Tap: How did you feel when you found out you were nominated for Emerging Explorers?
Grace Young: I was absolutely thrilled. It’s made me think a lot more about how I’m sharing the work that I do. There was this quote: “If you don’t share your science, you might as well not have done it.” So now I’m trying to be conscious of that. I’ve been so fortunate to be a woman interested in technology from a young age [and] to have my degree from MIT, but many women don’t even realize that’s a career they can have, so I want to share that in order to bring the best talent into the field that we can.

OT: What will you be focusing on during the “Extreme Ocean” discussion?
GY: I’m looking forward to sharing my stories about my time on the ocean and my perspective as a technology developer, and what I think of as the biggest changes affecting our ocean. People don’t tune in unless they learn to love it and see why I’m passionate about it, and why so many people at Nat Geo and other places are too.

OT: How does the work that you’re doing to save these coral reefs affect lives in DC?
GY: Two things: one, even if you’re living far from the ocean, we’re still all connected to the ocean. The ocean covers 71 percent of our planet; it provides half of the oxygen we breathe, and it’s a protein source for at least a billion people. Two, I always think, “What kind of ocean do we want to pass on to the next generation?” I’ve seen remote beaches that are covered in trash, [with] more coming in with each wave. On the other hand, I’ve been able to jump off a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and go swimming at sunset. I would like for that to be an experience that everyone can have. But it’s not just about us. Those stories connect us to the ocean, but it’s about keeping our planet habitable for our species and all the other species.


Can’t Live Without
My family
The ocean
Coral-safe sunscreen
StarTalk podcast by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
STEM education


OT: Is developing technology to help restore these coral reefs a new movement?
GY: My work uses cutting-edge technology, but artificial reefs have been used since ancient times. People learned pretty early that if you have any artificial structure, it attracts fish, and putting any collection of rocks together worked okay. What we’re trying to do now is use advancements in technology and a lot of data to design optimal artificial reefs so that they can attract fish, keep healthy coral reefs and help protect against shoreline erosion.

OT: Does seeing all of this pollution in the ocean ever make you feel discouraged?
GY: I try not to get discouraged. There are so many people who really care, and new businesses and technologies are being developed to try and help solve this problem. We only realized it was a huge problem maybe like 50 to 60 years ago, and it’s hard to make big-scale changes, but I think the movement is there.

OT: I read that we know more about outer space than we do about our own oceans. How do you feel about that?
GY: It baffles me. I actually wrote my undergraduate thesis on this topic. I went to look at the history, and space and ocean exploration were on pretty much the same path until the 1960s when we put man on the moon and men at the deepest point of the ocean. But after that, the trajectories really diverged. Even now, NASA’s budget for just pure exploration is 150 times greater than any equivalent exploration budget for NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. But I think that’s starting to change. I think everyone’s realizing how important, how serious and how alien our ocean is.

OT: Do you think it’s about time we start looking more inward to ourselves on Earth?
GY: Yes. There’s a T.S. Elliot quote that says, “At the end of our exploring, we come back to where we came from.” From a technology standpoint, I’m thinking of the new, unexpected discoveries we’re going to make by developing technologies that help us explore the ocean. Because GPS and electromagnetic waves that we rely on for most communication don’t work underwater, we have to innovate – we have to do something different and more creative. I think that is going to have so many unintended discoveries.


Work Must-Haves
Scuba gear
Air
Notebook
Pen
Watch


OT: As a former ballerina and with your experience working on a coral reef sculpture, what do the arts mean to you?
GY: I trained at CityDance at Strathmore, and I was also at the Washington Ballet School. That really shaped who I am and my work ethic. I think it taught me discipline, and how to be inspired by my peers, but also how to focus on my own strengths and weaknesses. Although I don’t dance anymore, I watch the ballet as much as I can. I think art and science are connected. There’s creativity involved in both of them, so that certainly informs my thought process.

OT: How important is it to marry science and arts together?
GY: Arts and science are fundamentally very similar thought processes. We can learn how to become a better scientist by learning the arts, and vice versa. Art can be a great way to engage in a unique way with science. I was at the UN’s [Ocean Conference] in New York City last summer, and in front of the UN, they had a gigantic whale and fish sculpture. From afar they just looked like great sculptures, but up close, they were made of little bits of plastic that people pulled up from this one beach. It was so moving, and I feel like if you never heard of this plastic problem before, you definitely got the picture right there with that piece of work.

Don’t miss Grace Young at National Geographic on April 10 from 7:30-9 p.m. Tickets are $25. Learn more about the event at www.nationalgeographic.org/explorers.

The National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org/dc/events