Into the Deep: An Immersive Oceans Course main content.

Into the Deep: An Immersive Oceans Course

Five Tuesdays, January 15 - February 12, 2019

Giant squid

Join deep-sea evolutionary biologist Mercer Brugler as he takes us on a deep dive into the science behind the Unseen Oceans exhibition during this five-part immersive course. Featured guest scientists and experts will deliver a close look into some of the oceans’ most awe-inspiring characteristics—from bioluminescent organisms and giant squid to the unexplored depths of the oceans' most mysterious regions. This course takes place inside the Unseen Oceans exhibition.

Week 1 (January 15th)

The Evolution of Modern Cetaceans (Whales and Dolphins) from the Land to the Ocean

Guest Speaker: Dr. Paul L. Sieswerda, Gotham Whale

Meet Pakicetus, the first “whale” that lived on land 50 million years ago, and learn about its relationship to modern whales and land mammals, like the hippo.

Week 2 (January 22nd)

Marine Drifters and Fluorescent Animals

Guest Speaker: Dr. David Gruber, CUNY

Learn why marine drifters (plankton) are so vital to life on Earth including humans, find out which zooplankton (drifting carnivores) have been found in NYC tap water, and use microscopes in the Sackler Educational Laboratory to view a diversity of living microscopic organisms. Then, discover the causes of fluorescence in various animal species, and the special technology that revealed this unique trait still being debated upon by scientists.

Week 3 (January 29th)

The Giant Squid: Evolution and Diversity of Intelligent Marine Invertebrates

Guest Speaker: Dr. Mark Siddall, AMNH Curator

Participate in a dissection in the Sackler Educational Laboratory to discover a squid’s siphon, beak, pen, ink sac, and more oddities, and go behind the scenes to the Invertebrate Zoology Wet Collection to meet the Museum’s preserved specimen of a giant squid.

Week 4 (February 5th)

Deep Sea Exploration: Discovery in the Largest Environment on Earth

Guest Speaker: Bruce Strickrott, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Learn about the latest human-operated and autonomous underwater vehicles exploring the world’s oceans today. View high-resolution images of various deep-sea landscapes and their inhabitants, including a 4,265-year-old black coral, a 17,000-year-old glass sponge, a 15-foot tall bubblegum coral. Then, decorate your own Styrofoam cup for it to be sent into the depths of the ocean in the next R/V Atlantis cruise of 2019, attached to the world-famous Alvin submersible–under the crushing pressures of the deep sea, the Styrofoam will reduce in size, while preserving your design.

Week 5 (February 12th)

Visualizing the World’s Oceans Through Cutting-Edge Technologies

Guest Speaker: Dr. Vicki Ferrini, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Experience the Museum’s exclusive 360-degree video experience, Swimming with Giants, and other titles developed to explore the depths of the oceans through cutting-edge visualization and virtual reality technologies.


Meet the Instructors

Mercer Brugler

Dr. Mercer R. Brugler, a deep-sea evolutionary biologist, is an Associate Professor at NYC College of Technology (CUNY), which ranks #1 in ethnic diversity among northern regional colleges. In collaboration with Dr. Estefania Rodriguez (Associate Curator of Marine Invertebrates), Dr. Brugler runs a molecular lab at the American Museum of Natural History where underrepresented minority students at the high school and undergraduate level learn how to extract, amplify, sequence and analyze the genetic blueprint of deep-sea black corals in an effort to discover new species. Black corals have been found living at 8,600 meters depth (=28,215 feet) and the longest-living species has been aged at over 4,265 years old. Students in Dr. Brugler's lab regularly participate in research cruises aboard the NOAA research vessel Manta to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (NW Gulf of Mexico).

Dr. Brugler is also an adjunct at NYU's School of Professional Studies (Division of Applied Undergraduate Studies) and a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (Washington DC). Dr. Brugler earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology at the University of Miami, Florida (1997-2001), a Master of Science in Marine Biology at the College of Charleston’s Grice Marine Laboratory (South Carolina, 2001-2004), and a Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (2004-2011). Dr. Brugler was also a Gerstner Scholar and Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History's Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics (2011-2014).

Paul Sieswerda headshot
After retiring in 2009 from a long career as Curator at both the New England and NY Aquariums, Paul L. Sieswerda was drawn to studying the whales that are returning to the waters around NY City.  "The whales came to me", he says.  Sieswerda has developed the 501c3 organization, Gotham Whale, to study, educate about, and advocate for the marine mammals around NYC.  Gotham Whale maintains a database of marine mammal sightings from their observations aboard the American Princess, a whale watch boat out of Rockaway, Queens and other Citizen Science sources.  Gotham Whale keeps The NYC Humpback Whale Catalog which identifies individual whales from photographs of their flukes.  Gotham Whale tracks the species, location, and behavior to gain insight into the whales as they come closer and closer to the Big City.
David Gruber headshot

Dr. David Gruber is Presidential Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Baruch College, City University of New York and serves on the faculty of the Ph.D. Program in Biology at the CUNY Graduate Center and the CUNY Macaulay Honors College. He is also an Explorer for National Geographic, a Research Associate in Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History and an Adjunct Faculty member at the John B. Pierce Laboratory of the Yale School of Medicine.

Prof. Gruber’s deep-diving scientific diving teams have discovered scores of unique biofluorescent compounds, several of which have been developed into tools to find better cancer drugs.  A former tropical forester for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Gruber’s research utilizes Remote Operated Vehicles, extended-range SCUBA and soft robotics (in collaboration with the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory) to investigate corals, sponges and delicate forms of marine fauna.  Gruber is passionate about utilizing modern technology to view the underwater world from marine creatures’ perspectives.  In this vein, his group developed a “shark-eye” camera to gain a shark’s perspective of their marine environment. He is currently working on sea turtle biology, following his discovery of biofluorescence in the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). 


Dr. Mark Siddall's career has been devoted to uncovering biodiversity and evolutionary histories for the most successful animal life-history strategy of all time: parasitism. His research has encompassed protistan parasites from giardiasis and malaria to commercially significant shellfish pathogens, helminths, and even blood-feeding ectoparasites from bed bugs to leeches. He presently serves as president-elect of the American Society of Parasitologists and as treasurer of the Willi Hennig Society.

Anchored in a deep a tradition of fieldwork that spans the globe, Siddall has been central to the Sackler Institute of Comparative Genomics adopting and leveraging emergent DNA sequencing technologies to advance biodiversity sciences. The core of this mission is a broadly comparative understanding of genomic evolution comprising a fuller architecture of life than model organism studies allow.

Bruce Strickrott

Bruce Strickrott is the Group Manager and the Chief Pilot of the human-occupied Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Alvin, and its support ship, the R/V Atlantis, are owned by the U.S. Navy and operated as a part of the U.S. National Deep Submergence Facility, with principal funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Naval Research (ONR), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

He joined the Alvin operation team in 1996, and has logged 365 dives in Alvin for a total time of over 2500 hours submerged. He has travelled extensively with the submersible, supporting scientists from around the world including dives to depths of 4500 m (2.8 miles deep). His time in Alvin has helped to identify and collect many new species, including the deepest recorded hagfish (Eptotretus strickrottii – bearing his last name). 

Bruce currently oversees the engineering and operations groups and periodically sails as a pilot during dive missions. He has participated in a number of major Alvin overhaul events including the completion of the newest Alvin in 2013. The team is currently working on new designs that will ultimately complete Alvin’s final systems conversion for 6500-meter depth certification. Initial dive operations to 6500 meters are scheduled for 2021.

Vicki Ferrini Headshot
Dr. Vicki Ferrini is a Research Scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO). She specializes in seafloor mapping and more than 20 years of experience mapping shallow water and deep-sea environments using a variety of platforms including robotic vehicles and ships.  In addition to working with seafloor mapping data, she spends much of her time focused on making marine geoscience research data findable, accessible, reusable and interoperable. Integral to all of her work is data visualization and exploration, and she is currently working to help create a complete detailed map of the world ocean floor by the year 2030.

Into the Deep: An Immersive Oceans Course is made possible by OceanX, an initiative of the Dalio Foundation, as part of its generous support of the special exhibition Unseen Oceans and its related educational activities and public programs.