Dr. Edith Widder is an oceanographer, bioluminescence expert, a certified Scientific Research Pilot for Atmospheric Diving Systems, and an inventor.
After earning her doctorate she decided to study ocean creatures that were bioluminescent, those can make their own light, but found that the instrumentation to study these animals didn’t really exist. So, she started designing and making her own equipment. Working with engineers she conceived and built several unique devices to help humans see beneath the surface in new ways. In 2005 she co-founded the Ocean Research and Conservation Association that has a focus on developing innovative technologies to protect and restore our aquatic ecosystems and the species they sustain.
In 2012 she was part of a team of scientists that were able to obtain the first footage of a living giant squid in its natural habitat. Widder was invited to be part of the team due to talks she had given on using quiet unobtrusive viewing equipment and visual luring. She thought that attracting animals instead of scaring them away would be more beneficial in trying to observe sea life. Widder had noticed that using certain submersible vehicles yielded better results and she experimented with recording the propulsion sounds of each and found that those with electric motors made much less noise that could be disturbing ocean creatures.
So she designed a rig, called the Medusa, with no propulsion, a battery powered camera, and an optical lure comprised of a blue light. The lure was designed to mimic a deep sea dwelling jelly fish that uses bioluminescence as a defense mechanism. When this jelly is attacked it sets off light to try and attract something that will attack its attacker–like a giant squid. And this approach was wildly successful, capturing live images of a giant squid six times.
Widder would like to see an ocean exploration program on the national level much like NASA is for space exploration. She says we need to be exploring and protecting our life support systems here on Earth and that exploration is the engine that drives innovation and innovation drives economic growth.
Written by Angela Goad