By Punch Pep Correspondent Elizabeth Fischer
Saturday was the perfect day to be indoors.Â While most may have been snuggling or sleeping listening to the sound of rain on the windowpane; I was getting my geek on and loving the fact I was bringing the inner nerd to the surface, if only for a day (devilish grin).Â I was extremely excited to learn about the various inventions that have allowed us to survey and study the ocean floor and its creatures, Great White Sharks, the wilds of Africa or the Great Sahara Desert, and the behaviors of the wild, including Lions & Tigers & Bears â€“ oâ€™h my.
The gadgets were cool and included miniature helicopters that have the ability to shoot high-quality video in situations where cameras are too awkward; crittercams that attach to the critter and give a birdâ€™s eye view of behaviors and day to day survival; dropcams that sit on the ocean floor and observe life at a level no human can explore (except for maybe James Cameron who luckily returned from the Abyss);Â and dangerously bright lighting rigs that capture radiant and dazzling underwater images.Â The above mentioned were all hatched at National Geographicâ€™s headquarters from the clever minds of the Remote Imaging Engineers a/k/a the Tech Team.Â The inventions are not only remarkable but they are extremely useful.
Engineers Eric Berkenpas and Mike Shepard prove itâ€™s hip to be a geek.Â As kids, both were fascinated with erector sets and leftover electronic supplies.Â Mike recalls that he often â€œtook more things apart than he ever put back together.â€Â Sound familiar?!Â Lucky for them, their hobby blossomed into a full-time career at National Geographic.Â Eric delights in the fact that their position allows them to â€œsee each project through from start to finish; from prototype in the lab to functioning tool in the field.â€Â Mike adds that they â€œalways get to do something different because each project comes with its own set of challenges.â€Â For them, work is a combination of passion, intelligence, results, & hands-on trials, errors & triumphs.
An incredibly exceptional geeky day! Where do I sign up!?
The stories shared were an amalgamation of twists, turns, bumps, curvy roads, and victory, peppered with humor, exploration, education, and new ideas.Â Here are some of the images and stories.
The image below is from the dropcam â€“ can you guess what the spec is?
The spec isÂ a jellyfish, the Rhopalonematid Trachymedusa â€“ sounds more like a dinosaur to me.
The dropcam is a small portable, underwater camera that is cool because itâ€™s really simple, doesnâ€™t require any big cables, and doesnâ€™t really make any noise that could scare animals away,â€ says Mike.Â Eric continues, â€œEvery time we drop it down, it makes a discovery.â€Â Who can beat those odds – not the weatherman – that’s for sure.Â In fact, during an expedition to the Pacific Oceanâ€™s Mariana Trench, Mike and Eric used the dropcam and were successful in Â recording the deepest known existence of xenophyophores, which is a giant single-celled organism.Â It is both unbelievable and incredible that we have the ability to explore one of natureâ€™s truest marvels – the deepest, darkest place on earth and the living things that dwell there.
Next is an image that draws to mind JAWS (funny â€“ as a kid the Jawsâ€™ shark was terrifying and made me afraid to take a bath but as an adult the mechanical fish was humorous and anything but scary – yet the real great white commands respect because without it we become his bait, his meal).
Here the tech teamâ€™s goal was to attach a camera to the dorsal fin of a wild shark, specifically the spectacular Great White.Â Simple enough – right?Â If only!Â While on expedition, the Great White selected to be honored with the camera for surveillance was longer than the boat holding the two engineers.Â The shark was not only curious but aggressive and circled the boat many times before attacking it and biting the motor, which resulted in Mike falling into the water on top of the 18 foot shark.Â At first, he was disoriented because he had his sunglasses on and could not see; he imagined teeth sinking into to his skin.Â Eventually he got his bearings only to realize he hasÂ floated adrift of the boat.Â With this realization, heÂ began to leisurely swim back when he realized he was swimming with a white shark at which point he swum his ass off.Â Â Â Despite this wrinkle, the voyage was a triumph.
Traveling on assignment can be a lot of fun, but arriving at a remote location with smashed equipment in your checked luggage is not so much fun.Â Eric and Mike must not only invent state-of-the-art gadgets, but they are also tasked with making sure each piece is lightweight and can travel easily.Â â€œWe try to be cheap, and end up being environmentally friendly as well,â€ Eric explains.Â Â Â For me, a gracious compromise.
When the two are not working, Eric is baking (yet refers to it as his domestic science project â€“ I can only imagine his creations â€“ edible?); and Mike is catching up on episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Of course, this is only when they can bear to tear themselves away from their wizardry.
To see more crittercam photos visit: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/crittercam/
Attorney Elizabeth Fischer is Punch Pep Correspondent. She is working as an Entrepreneur, Lawyer and Student (environmental studies), covering events for Pamela’s Punch as a generalist correspondent. When she is not working, studying or playing soccer or tennis, she is walking her pups, traveling the globe, running marathons, and enjoying all DC has to offer. Contact her at email@example.com.