Finding Light In The Sea's Dark Depths Edith Widder, of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, has been exploring the deep sea for 30 years. When Widder descended for the first time, she says she wasn't prepared for the light show she encountered and has been building tools to document bioluminescence ever since.
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Finding Light In The Sea's Dark Depths

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Finding Light In The Sea's Dark Depths

Finding Light In The Sea's Dark Depths

Finding Light In The Sea's Dark Depths

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Edith Widder, of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, has been exploring the deep sea for 30 years. When Widder descended for the first time, she says she wasn't prepared for the light show she encountered and has been building tools to document bioluminescence ever since.

IRA FLATOW, host:

(Soundbite of music)

And that little flute can only mean one thing at this time. It's time for Flora Lichtman and our video pick of the week. Hi, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Welcome.

LICHTMAN: Thanks.

FLATOW: What have you got for us this week?

LICHTMAN: This week is the story of one oceanographer's quest to see the light.

FLATOW: To see...

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: That's cheesy even for me, I think.

FLATOW: Not for me, I love it.

LICHTMAN: Thanks.

FLATOW: Go ahead. What do you mean see? I'll be the straight man. What do you mean see the light?

LICHTMAN: So, Edith Widder is an oceanographer who has been studying the deep sea for 30 years.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: And the first time she went down, descended into the depths, she was in this little submersible called WASP. And it looks kind of like a sleeping bag with like arm extenders. It's really...

FLATOW: Right. Like Robby the Robot for people my age.

LICHTMAN: Okay. Whatever reference you like.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: And you're inside this basic - like a little wetsuit but it's dry in there, right?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. I mean, and it's a single person...

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: ...submersible. And she went down and turned off the lights...

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: ...of the submersible.

FLATOW: I'd be scared, but she wasn't. That's why she's there and I'm not.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, right. Me, too - and saw a fantastic lightshow, which she calls a sort of transformative moment. And what she was seeing were these bioluminescent organisms, these marine creatures that light up.

FLATOW: Hmm.

LICHTMAN: And when she did this, you know, now I think a lot of people have heard of...

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: ...bioluminescence. But a the time, actually, she said that she would look through biology textbooks and no one would even reference bioluminescence now, or they would mix it up with, like, phosphorescence or fluorescence which are different.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: So those are created by - those are light-created reactions, and bioluminescence happens with chemicals.

FLATOW: So inside the sea creature's body, they secrete the chemicals and they light up.

LICHTMAN: And they light up.

FLATOW: Wow. And you went and you collected these photos, these videos.

LICHTMAN: Yes, they're some good archival images. So I think what Edie Widder has really contributed are all these different camera systems that have allowed us to see what these organisms look like. I mean, I think probably most of the time that you see bioluminescence on "Planet Earth" or Thee Discovery Channel, you're looking at images that she's collected. And I think...

FLATOW: She hasn't gotten any credit for it.

LICHTMAN: Well, I don't know. She probably has.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: But we're going to give here credit in your video.

LICHTMAN: More credit.

FLATOW: Give her credit. And so in your Video Pick of the Week - it's on our website at sciencefriday.com. You can take a look at it on our website. You can download it on your iPhone, your iPhone app.

LICHTMAN: And you can see some of these really bizarre...

FLATOW: Fantastic.

LICHTMAN: ...animals.

FLATOW: And they're very pretty.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, they're beautiful.

FLATOW: Can you see these yourself? If, you know, if you want to go scuba diving in a nighttime or snorkeling?

LICHTMAN: You can see lots of different beaches, you don't need to go that far. I've seen bioluminescence off of Long Island, actually, you know, dinoflagellates right at the surface...

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: ...will create this sort of glow and some places are better than others. But if you want to see the really neat deep-sea stuff, you have to go to the SCIENCE FRIDAY website.

FLATOW: Of course. That's what we make our reputation on. Go to our website at sciencefriday.com. Right there in the top left corner is the Video Pick of the Week. Flora is our multimedia editor, has put this together and you'll see some great - it's great fun video. It's fantastic. It's mindboggling.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. And I think she calls it mind-blowing. And to hear someone who's really, you know, knows what they're talking about say that is even neater. The best part is splat camera.

FLATOW: Oh, I can't wait. The splat camera.

LICHTMAN: I won't give more away.

FLATOW: All right. You got to go to our video pick of the week on the website. It's SCIENCE FRIDAY. Thank you, Flora...

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: ...our digital editor.

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