Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kid! Interview with Christopher Lindsay

By Victoria Feng, Assistant Editor and AKOM Editor


Christopher Lindsay is one of the only four 2016 Davidson Fellows Laureates and recipient of a $50,000 scholarship. He was awarded this honorable award for his work in oceanic research. This has brought him to live on an NOAA research vessel. In addition to studying the ocean, Christopher has discovered an extrasolar planet.

Amazing Kids (AK): What inspired you to create a method for studying the ocean?

Christopher Lindsay (CL): More than 530 people have traveled to outer space, yet only three people have descended to the deepest part of the ocean, located more than 10,000 meters deep in the Mariana Trench. Although earth’s oceans cover 71 percent of our planet, approximately 95 percent of earth’s oceans remain unexplored. We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the undersea world on our own planet. These facts boggle my mind!

How can we truly understand the forces that affect our planet if we don’t know much about our undersea world that covers most of its surface? There is a crucial need to develop more efficacious and affordable ways to explore our underwater environments. Will we discover substances thriving underwater that can cure human diseases, find ways to feed our starving planet, or even develop ways to live under the sea? These discoveries will potentially also affect our exploration of other planets as we search the universe for extraterrestrial life and habitable zones. Who knows what similarities and differences will be discovered as we explore outer space as well as our own planet’s inner space? The possibilities are endless, and it’s exciting to be a part of these discoveries, to be sure.

AK: Why is the ocean so difficult to explore?

CL: The following are only a few of the challenging factors encountered by ocean researchers:

  • Extreme Pressure:Pressure at 10,000 m depth is equivalent to 8 tons per square inch. Divers below 80 m depth risk pulmonary embolism, oxygen toxicity, nitrogen narcosis, and even dangerous wildlife. Equipment under pressure also jeopardizes life through risks of implosion, leakage, and loss.
  • Darkness:Beyond ~200 m depth, very little sunlight and no photosynthesis occurs; a light and energy source to fuel the light becomes necessary for observational purposes.
  • Extreme Temperature:The average temperature of the ocean’s surface is 17 degrees Celsius, but in deep ocean water, the average is 0-3 degrees Celsius.
  • Visibility:Ambient light alone is often not sufficient for observation; even in shallower depths, there is a loss of color and contrast so that everything appears blue-green in color or completely dark. Clarity of water due to sedimentation, current, and other debris can obstruct vision. Condensation damages equipment and also limits visibility.
  • Expense:Costs for underwater research can be exorbitant due to the challenges imposed by exploration in this extreme environment. Advanced technology, specialized equipment, experienced personnel, and sophisticated resources are necessary and expensive.
  • Other Risks:Ocean research is dangerous and hazardous to humans. Marine projects are risky business because they are subject to frequent equipment failure, beset with unpredictable problems (such as hostile marine life and extreme weather conditions). They also usually take long periods of time to complete; thus, considerable time, effort, and money may be spent on a project that may never come to fruition. One of my mentors even told me that one of his projects was ruined because a shark had gnawed through his cable!

AK: Can you describe what camera arrays are and how they can help scientists who are doing undersea research?

CL: Camera arrays are multiple cameras mounted on various frames and focused on a target in order to get a 360-degree view of a site. For example, if you have only one camera focused on an object, you only get a frontal view of the object. However, if you have at least three cameras positioned around the object, you get a much more complete view of the object and its environment. Although it is more difficult to synchronize the cameras and lighting needed, especially in the underwater environment, the complete data set from all the cameras reveals some incredible footage not possible with just a single camera.

For example, what could be seen as a lone male triggerfish near a discarded munition was not a true representation of what occurred because a camera positioned on the opposite side of the munition captured a female triggerfish also guarding their nest. From opposite ends of the munition, both triggerfish appeared to be protecting a nest of eggs underneath the munition. Even more incredible was the fact that yet another camera captured a whole colony of triggerfish swimming several yards above the site! What one camera captured as a lone male triggerfish was actually a pair of triggerfish as well as a vibrant colony of many triggerfish engaged in similar behavior!

AK: Do you think living in Hawaii (which is an island) allowed you to explore more of the ocean? If so, how?

CL: Growing up in Hawaii definitely affects my attitude, awareness, and love for our oceans and undersea worlds. On a daily basis, I see how our oceans affect human life, from what we eat to our weather patterns to the need to protect the health of our environment and preserve the wonderful natural resources of our watery planet. While I am constantly in awe of the mysteries of the sea, I am also outraged by humankind’s abuse of marine life and habitats. I see endangered monk seals being clubbed to death, whales being mutilated by boats, and endangered seal turtles being harassed and needlessly killed. Can you imagine what is happening at the microscopic level with pollution and climate fluctuations?

My research not only explores the unknown but also will hopefully instill the awe, respect, and appreciation our unique ocean environment so desperately deserves. Planet Earth is a sample size of ONE. Thus far, we know that life exists on only one planet in our entire universe because water makes life possible here on Planet Earth. Living in Hawaii and being completely surrounded by water have made me constantly aware of the importance of our oceans and how little we know about their unique wonders.

AK: When you aren’t working on scientific discoveries, is there anything you enjoy doing?

CL: I love music, especially jazz. I play many instruments (including the pipe organ, drum set, and flute) and enjoy playing in Big Band and Jazz ensembles. I recently made my singing and acting debut as “Big Daddy” in the musical “Sweet Charity.” I also like to enter essay contests and have a knack for winning trips to exotic places, such as New Zealand. I am a black belt in Shotokan Karate and a Hawaii State Champion in bowling, and I have played tennis at USTA Nationals. I enjoy hanging out with friends; eating sushi and ramen; teaching my dog, Macadamia Nut CoRoT 29b, CGC, new tricks; and catching elusive and rare Pokemon, especially the ones my sister hasn’t caught yet!

AK: Do you have any goals for the future?

CL: I hope to double major in Astronomy and Environmental Studies while getting a minor in Jazz Studies. In so doing, I would like to make the universe and our undersea world accessible to others’ eyes and make lots of noise about it. There are so many new frontiers to explore and new discoveries to be made. I hope to be on the cutting edge of research into unexplored realms and help increase humankind’s understanding and enthusiasm for exploring the unknown.

AK: Do you have any advice for our readers? 

CL: 1) Be curious, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and always remain in awe of the incredible universe in which we live.

2) March to your own drummer, and enjoy the fact that your march is on untrodden ground! Try new things with an open mind, courage, and confidence.

3) Look at mistakes as unique opportunities for improvement. Lots of kids and parents emphasize winning prizes and receiving awards. However, I have learned that through “failures,” you learn a lot more from the journey you take, even though it may be a rocky one filled with obstacles, challenges, and frustrations. “Winning” will come when you least expect it, and the win may not be what you expected.

4) Stay humble, enjoy what you’re doing, don’t let the small things upset you, and go for those things that are truly AMAZING to YOU, not for something you think will get you into college. Do great and AMAZING things for others, and you will be rewarded in ways you cannot imagine. Be motivated to discover the wonderful things in your life.

AK: Is there anything else you would like to add?

CL: Many people will advise you to “follow your passion.” However, you will not know what your passion may be unless you try a wide variety of pursuits. If you’re like me, you will find you have many “passions.” You might even get criticized for having too many. You will be told to concentrate on only one thing in order to be good at it. This advice is bogus. The more you know and pursue, the better person and fascinating human being you will become. You will also have more fun and find more delight in living if you are a person with multiple interests. Be a fearless explorer, and you will find the time and resources needed to discover incredible things, many of which may be beyond your wildest dreams.