Your Own Underwater Robot?

Doug Levin is the Associate Director for the Center for
Environment and Society at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland,
and is an expert in underwater exploration technology, as well as
designing fun programs that teach complex engineering concepts.

I briefly mentioned Aquabotz in my introductory post. The Aquabotz STEM (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering) program allows groups of students to work poolside to design, build, and launch a working underwater robot in a little more than an hour. I’ve done this with classes down to the 7th grade, and have never had a student group fail in this project in the 10 years I’ve been offering it.  So, how did I come up with this idea to have students build their own robots?

I’d been working in the ocean exploration field since the 80s and became enamored with the use of Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to explore underwater.  By definition, an ROV is connected to the surface by a cable that we call a “tether.” The early ROVs were prohibitively expensive for individuals, but I looked at them and thought, “How hard would it be to make one myself?”  So, armed with knowledge of electricity garnered from my life-long hobby of model train building, and with bathtub silicone sealant, PVC pipes, and cable ties, I set out to build a working underwater robot for $150.  

Continue reading “Your Own Underwater Robot?”

Meet Doug Levin: Geologist and Engineer

Doug Levin is the Associate Director for the Center for Environment and Society at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, and is an expert in underwater exploration technology, as well as designing fun programs that teach complex engineering concepts.

Doug-SIS-1000.jpgAs a kid growing up in Westport, Connecticut, I spent hours upon hours on the boat with my Dad. He would drive me crazy, gesturing at some point afar on the water’s surface exclaiming; “Can you see that? Nope, can’t see it. It’s underwater. (You) have to imagine it.”

Little did we both know that would become the phrase that shaped my future. After graduating from high school I went off to Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) in Madison, New Jersey, knowing that my last semester would be spent at their St. Croix, USVI campus. While at the St. Croix campus my life’s vocation changed when I took Tropical Marine Geology with Dr. Dennis Hubbard (Now at Oberlin College). He aptly demonstrated that by knowing geology, you could go anywhere in the world and look at a map, or out of the window of an airplane, and immediately see how that land was formed and was being shaped. “How cool is that,” I said to myself, and that was the beginning of my professional journey into Geology.

Doug-Little.jpgOne day I was in Dr. Hubbard’s office when his phone rang (yes, this was back in 1978). He picked it up and answered, “Dr. Hubbard, how can I help you?” When he hung up I said to him, “I’d like to answer my phone like that one day.” He said, “That would be fine, but you’d better use your own name!” 

From there I went up to Boston University and earned a Masters in Coastal Geology. From there, down south to Louisiana State University, where I earned my doctoral studying the coastline just west of the Mississippi River delta (how I went from BU down to LSU is another story that I’d be happy to tell in another post). Throughout my career I’ve worked as an academic, as a scientist in private industry, and as a federal employee of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Since the 80’s I’ve been lucky to be in the right place at the right time and get paid to join some really cool operations. My professional experience includes over thirty years of using devices (I consider them toys) that map the seafloor from the shallows to the very, very deep.  These include global positioning systems (GPS), multi-beam (bottom depth) side scan sonar, sub bottom profilers, Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCP), ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles), AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles), and magnetometers.

Continue reading “Meet Doug Levin: Geologist and Engineer”