The sinking of the Titanic has captured the imaginations of generations. Bridgewater State University students recently met one of the few people to see the wreck first-hand.
Prominent maritime archeologist Dr. James Delgado spoke at BSU, a university he praised for its state-of-the-art labs and a campus that is accessible to the public through events such as Open Lab Night.
“It’s a human-scale university,” Delgado said in an interview before delivering the annual Class of 1942 lecture. “I think it’s a perfect size. It’s large, but not a gigantic campus with 50,000 students. It’s the right scale for the kind of interactions I believe in in education, which are closer interactions with students and the ability to mentor.”
Delgado, who was fascinated with archeology and shipwrecks as a curious child, also spoke to BSU students and faculty and toured the university’s facilities during a multi-day visit.
Curiosity, in a way, led him to Bridgewater State. Delgado and Dr. Martina Arndt, a BSU physics professor, met when they were touring the Kennedy Space Center. They were the only people in their group to venture out to the launch pad where a fire killed the Apollo 1 crew.
Arndt was excited to meet Delgado, since she was captivated by the Titanic as a child. She invited him to visit Bridgewater.
To Delgado, a former director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, space is not the only “final frontier.”
“We’ve mapped the moon. We’ve mapped Mars and we’ve only mapped 5 percent of the earth’s oceans,” he said during the lecture.
Delgado kept up his inquisitiveness throughout a career, shining a light deep below the ocean’s surface with the help of increasingly advanced diving equipment and submersibles. In addition to the Titanic, he’s explored a variety of other shipwrecks, including the USS Independence aircraft carrier that was part of a target fleet for atomic bomb tests. He has seen the mailroom on the Titanic and a plane from the Independence.
Delgado, who is now senior vice president of SEARCH Inc., works with interdisciplinary teams of scientists on missions, where he spots unique fish in addition to shipwrecks.
“Every time we go…we are discovering new life,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s Star Trek. We meet aliens all the time, except they’re aliens of the deep.”
Scientists can observe and control missions from afar thanks to technology that also allows the public to watch on the internet.
Explorations bring closure to families whose relatives served on sunken ships and help researchers learn more about the connection between oceans and humans, Delgado said.
He hopes students remain interested in learning and understand that science is about collaboration across the disciplines.
“I never want to stop learning,” he said. “I’m still a student and will be until the day I die.”
Archbishop Williams High School freshmen Swetha Venkatesan and Sasha Powers took that message to heart. Swetha and Sasha were eager to learn how BSU students conduct research by touring labs at Open Lab Night, which followed Delgado’s lecture. They were also curious to get a glimpse into shipwreck exploration.
“We haven’t really learned about that yet,” Swetha said of shipwrecks.
Delgado had a message for students like Sasha and Swetha:
“My generation and the one before me hasn’t found it all,” he said. “There’s so much more left to do and now the opportunity and the responsibility is with you. You can not only make a career, you can make a difference.”