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New MIT Exhibit Features High-speed Underwater Photography

16.01.2015
New MIT Exhibit Features High-speed Underwater Photography

MIT is not likely to be a place you will associate with an outstanding underwater photography exhibit. However, a visit the Wiesner Student Art Gallery to see the current exhibit "Undersea Phenomena in Ultra Slow Motion" may very well change your mind. Grace Young is a MIT graduate, class of 2014, with a bachelor's degree in mechanical and ocean engineering and a minor in history of art and architecture. While most fresh college graduates worry about finding a job, Grace went scuba diving.A dive that lasted two weeks at 60 feet as a scientist of the Fabien Cousteau's Mission 31.

Grace was assisting with multiple research projects. She was the leading scientist on a project with a high-speed Edgertronic camera. They took images of over three dozen species, some that move too fast for the human eye to register details. "We thought the videos would be scientifically interesting for marine biologists — showing the dynamics of each creature's movements — but they're also artistically appealing," said Young.


While the images were created for scientific study, Grace felt that they had a wider appeal. So she started a kickstarter campaign to raise $3,000 to create the exhibit. The exhibit has still images taken from only 2.5 minutes of the film shoot. That still left many frames to choose from. A high definition (HD) video shoot 30 frames per second. So two and a half minutes of HD has 4,500 still images. Her two and a half minutes produced 300,000 frames to choose from. The Edgertronic camera, which itself was a kickstarter project, has the ability of 18,000 frames per second. This was the first time the Edgertronic camera was used underwater in a special case made for the mission.

Edgertronic camera

The camera is named for MIT Professor Harold "Doc" Edgerton, who was a professor of the man who designed the camera. The late "Doc" Edgerton enchanted the world with his high-speed flash photography, which could "freeze time" down to the millionth of a second. The year 1952 was a game changer for Edgerton. In that year, the National Geographic informed Edgerton that a relatively unknown Frenchman named Jacques Cousteau was interested in speaking about underwater photographic experiments. Edgerton and Cousteau became fast friends and worked together frequently. Doc Edgerton scientific advances expanded into to sonar where he made tremulous advances to the field including the concept of side looking sonar. Many of the advancement were made to meet challenges that Cousteau had. The Fabien Cousteau's Mission 31 was in honor of his grandfather's accomplishment, one that Edgerton played a major role.

Grace Young

At the opening Young was approached by a little girl in a gray sweater and floral skirt asking about a school of anchovies Young saw during her adventure. The girl's father brought his family specifically to meet Young. "Here is an intelligent self-actualized woman in science doing innovative research," he said. "She is a great role model for both of my children, but especially my daughter."

Young had received a scholarship before starting Mission 31 and is now undertaking an MSc/PhD in engineering science at Oxford. This week she will also be giving a TED speech in London.

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