By Stuart Thornton
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Eric is an engineer who facilitates the building of unique imaging tools and equipment for the National Geographic Society. Some of the equipment includes the dropcam, a camera that can film in some of the deepest regions of the world’s oceans, and the Crittercam, a camera attached to wild animals that can record video and audio as well as collect other data.
In sixth grade, Eric’s uncle sent him a box of electronic supplies that included diodes, resistors, and batteries. This spurred Eric to visit his local library in Orange City, Iowa, to learn more about electronics.
In high school, Eric won first prize at a science fair for constructing a robot. “You could hook it up to a computer and tell it to go to a certain place on the floor and it would go over there,” he says.
Eric pursued his interest in electronics by getting an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at South Dakota State University in Brookings, followed by a master's degree in the same subject at the University of Maine in Orono, Maine.
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
“I geek out about engineering stuff, but it’s also cool to get out in the field and come face to face with a great white shark or sail a sailboat to the deepest hole in the Atlantic Ocean and send a camera down there and see what comes back.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
Time management: “We get more projects than we could ever possibly do, and a lot of them are really good ideas.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
“I define it as the study of physical places in the world and how they relate to each other and what they mean to you.”
Eric says his work helps people understand what geographic regions of the world are really like.
“So in geography, you have a specific location on Earth, and you want to figure out what’s there, right?” he says. “I’m building the tools to be able to find out what’s in that volcano or what’s in that cave so that people can associate that point on a map with something real.”
The engineer outfits dropcams and Crittercams with beacons and radio transmitters so researchers can almost always find the equipment.
SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . ENGINEER
“Doing a science fair project is probably the thing that would be the most applicable.”
“If you are interested in using technology to study the behaviors of animals, especially marine animals, just volunteer at centers that handle those animals all the time.”
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry cave Noun
underground chamber that opens to the surface. Cave entrances can be on land or in water.
camera designed to be worn on a wild animal, providing a "critter-eye view" of the animal's environment.
data Plural Noun
(singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.
our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.
Encyclopedic Entry: Earth electrical engineer Noun
person who analyzes, designs, and constructs systems to conduct electricity.
devices or tools that use electricity to work.
person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).
tools and materials to perform a task or function.
to help or make easier.
study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.
Encyclopedic Entry: geography great white shark Noun
large shark native to temperate ocean waters.
imaging tool Noun
device used to obtain, analyze, and study visual data.
symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.
Encyclopedic Entry: map marine Adjective
having to do with the ocean.
master's degree Noun
level of education between the bachelor's and the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees.
National Geographic Society Noun
(1888) organization whose mission is "Inspiring people to care about the planet."
large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.
Encyclopedic Entry: ocean radio transmitter Noun
device that sends out sound signals.
any area on the Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.
Encyclopedic Entry: region robot Noun
machine that can be programmed to perform automatic, mechanical tasks.
aquatic vessel that uses wind to maneuver and move.
exact or precise.
to encourage or move forward.
the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.
one of a kind.
an opening in the Earth's crust, through which lava, ash, and gases erupt, and also the cone built by eruptions.
Encyclopedic Entry: volcano volunteer Noun
person who performs work without being paid.