Submarines Offer An Innovative Way to Introduce Students to STEM

Submarines Offer An Innovative Way to Introduce Students to STEM

One of the latest trends in scientific research involves citizen science projects. The projects aim to advance scientific findings and to promote scientific knowledge among the general population, engage the public in science, and contribute to scientific literacy in communities. Citizen science projects take many forms, which include watching birds in urban settings, documenting the variety of plants and animals in cities, and discovering archeological ruins in densely populated areas, among many others.

One organization has taken citizen science to the underwater realm. The organization, Innerspace Science, has chosen to share its members’ interest in personal submersible watercraft with the scientific community and the general population. The organization even uses its submarines to encourage an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) among youth. Read on to learn more about this organization.

About Innerspace Science

Innerspace Science

Innerspace Science was founded to make privately owned submersible watercraft accessible for scientific and educational purposes. In an interview with National Public Radio, Innerspace Science founder Alec Smyth noted that the organization was established as a way to bring greater meaning to a useful hobby. Smyth told NPR that in the future, Innerspace Science members hope to see collaborations grow between this organization and other scientific endeavors across the globe.

Extensive experience with submersibles

Innerspace Science is a small organization that consists of seven members. In 1998, Alec Smyth founded the group. Possessing a strong interest in marine conservation, he has performed educational outreach around the Washington, DC, metropolis.


Innerspace Science member Craig Bussel was previously employed as the chief ROV pilot by the Undersea Research Program for the North Atlantic and Great Lakes, which is part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Over the course of more than 20 years, he has participated in multiple shipwreck explorations and has collected data for several scientific expeditions. He has also provided educational outreach to schools in Northern California. Another member, Brian Hughes, possesses extensive experience with submersibles, having been an operator of these watercraft for nearly 40 years.

In addition, member Hank Pronk is renowned for his expertise in engineering. He implemented important safety features such as an escape pod for one submersible. Moreover, he built a towable submersible-carrying support vessel, which allows for increased mobility and the ability to participate in expeditions anywhere in North America from his base in Canada. Another member, Mark Ragan, is noted for his background as an expert in the history of submersibles, having written several books on this topic. He is also known for his outreach efforts that focus on providing piloting lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland, area.

Member Cliff Redus, who possesses a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering, is actively involved in educational outreach with elementary school students. Moreover, member Emile Van Essen owns a company that designs and makes submersible watercraft and their components, including a human-powered submersible that is designed to cross the English Channel.

STEM learning through submarines

Actively involved in the community, Innerspace Science has several members who provide educational outreach to schools. Two initiatives are highlighted on the organization’s website. Both of these opportunities focus on STEM learning and are available to students in the Washington, DC, area.

One initiative that Innerspace Science offers is an after-school program. The program, which runs for two months, is designed for students who attend middle school. Students begin by learning about the physics and engineering involved in underwater exploration. Then, the program shifts its focus to teach students about marine ecology and conservation.

Another program offered by Innerspace Science occurs during the school day. The half-day long program provides a brief introduction to physics and engineering before focusing primarily on marine ecology and conservation. As part of this program, a submersible watercraft is made available on the school grounds for students to touch and explore.

Citizen science expeditions

In addition to its educational mission, Innerspace Science is interested in advancing scientific knowledge. To this end, the organization has encouraged people to participate in scientific expeditions as citizen scientists. One expedition undertaken by Innerspace Science was to California’s Lake Tahoe in 2018. A collaboration with students at the University of California, Davis, the project focused on gathering data about Mysis shrimp and the impact of topography on the underwater habitat.

Another expedition undertaken by Innerspace Science was to Montana’s Flathead Lake in 2019. The expedition was a collaboration with the University of Montana to study Mysis shrimp, as well as the organisms growing in sediment reached by sunlight. The expedition also helped to identify locations for further study. One standout feature of this expedition was a nighttime dive by two submersible watercraft.