News Release

Keck Futures Initiative and the Gulf Research Program award $1.55 million for 21 projects

The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) and the Gulf Research Program -- programs of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine -- are pleased to announce recipients of 21 interdisciplinary seed grants, totaling $1.55 mil

Grant and Award Announcement

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON -- The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) and the Gulf Research Program -- programs of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine -- are pleased to announce recipients of 21 interdisciplinary seed grants, totaling $1.55 million. These competitive grants support collaborations and investigations resulting from Discovering the Deep Blue Sea: Research, Innovation, Social Engagement, the 14th annual Futures conference, held last November.

Major federal funding programs do not typically provide support in areas that are considered risky or unusual. Futures grants aim to fill this critical gap in funding for bold new ideas. The seed grants allow investigators to recruit students and postdocs to the research effort, purchase new equipment, acquire preliminary data, develop prototypes of exhibits, or create new collaborative teams and modes of inquiry -- all of which can position the project to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources.

Listed in alphabetical order -- principal investigators (PIs) first, then co-PIs -- the award recipients and their grant research topics are:

Brandon Ballengée, Louisiana State University / Ballengée Studio LLC

  • Fiscal agent for grant , Ballengée Studio LLC

Diego Figueroa, University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley
Christopher Hayes, University of Southern Mississippi
David Murphy, University of South Florida
Adam Skarke, Mississippi State University

Creating Resilience: Building a Gulf of Mexico NAKFI Alumni Working Group - $25,000

Composed of alumni from an interdisciplinary art, science, and outreach meeting of NAKFI, this group's goal is to become a resilient regional network of specialists from diverse backgrounds collaborating creatively to address complex socio-ecological issues facing Gulf communities and ecosystems.

Mark Ballora, Pennsylvania State University
Heather Spence, Michelle's Earth Foundation

Layers of Meaning: How the Ocean's Natural Acoustics and the Music of its Datasets Can Reveal Hidden Connections - $50,000

Kelsey Bisson, Alyson Santoro, and David Siegel, University of California, Santa Barbara

Project ROAM: Rendering Oceanography in Artistic Mediums - $50,000

This collaborative, student-led effort is targeted at bringing oceanography to the public eye through the mediums of art, music, photography, writing, and film. Artists and scientists will work in tandem at sea to produce materials for a cruise magazine and an art-science installation in Santa Barbara, California.

Timothy Broderick, Wright State Research Institute

  • Fiscal agent for grant, Djerassi Resident Artists Program

Daniel Kohn, Kohnworkshop
Alyson Santoro, University of California, Santa Barbara
Margot Knight, Djerassi Resident Artists Program
Jody Deming, University of Washington

The Deep Sea Memory Project - $100,000

This project will explore the largely unknown world of the deep sea in the context of memory. Transdisciplinary workshops will spur innovative science and art projects that help us understand and communicate how changes in our global environment are recorded by the deep ocean and its inhabitants.

Margaret Byron, University of California, Irvine

  • Fiscal agent for grant, Pennsylvania State University

David Murphy, University of South Florida

Swimming Across Scales: Metachronal Rowing in the Deep Blue Sea - $50,000

Many marine organisms propel themselves by sequentially stroking multiple appendages, a visually striking technique known as metachronal rowing. These animals are of dramatically different sizes and swim at different speeds. This project will investigate how and why metachronal rowing is successful by examining two model species, ctenophores and mantis shrimp.

C. Anela Choy, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Suspended and Sinking: First Steps Toward Unraveling the Mysteries of Plastic Debris Fingerprints in the Deep Blue Sea - $50,000 Plastic debris is now widespread within nearly all marine ecosystems. Inherently, plastic doesn't degrade but breaks into smaller pieces, concentrating toxins when they are ingested by marine organisms. This effort will develop tools to characterize plastic distributions in the deep blue sea and their effects on marine organisms.

Diego Figueroa, University of Texas, Rio Grande Valle
Elizabeth Nyman, Maritime Studies, Texas A&M University at Galveston
Mark Dion, Conceptual Artist Studio
Nuno Nunes, Tecnico U. Lisbon, Portugal

Promoting Public Stewardship of the Deep Blue Sea Through Real-Time Interaction With a Mesophotic Reef - $100,000

This project consists of interactive lessons and a travelling exhibit to be used across K-12 classrooms, community centers, and museums. As its centerpiece is the collection of real-time data from a mesophotic reef through an Internet connection that allows control of a high-definition pan/tilt camera and several environmental sensors.

Christopher Hayes, University of Southern Mississippi
Lisa-ann Gershwin, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Oceans and Atmosphere (Australia)
Michael Sieracki, National Science Foundation
Rebecca Green, United States Department of the Interior/Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)
Allie Kollias, ArtCenter College of Design

Dive In: An Immersive and Wonder-Filled Virtual Reality Experience of Life in the Ocean's Mesopelagic Zone - $100,000

This project will develop a prototype cell-phone-based virtual reality experience that focuses on life in the dark, mysterious depths of the ocean. It will feature ocean footage, animation, and a charismatic expert guide to convey the captivating life histories of deep ocean organisms and the conditions in which they live.

Daniel Kohn, Ligo Project / Kohnworkshop

  • Fiscal agent for grant, Djerassi Resident Artists Program

Julie Huber, Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Heather Spence, Michelle's Earth Foundation
Emily Ziff Griffin, The Mixed Use Company Inc.
Timothy Broderick, Wright State University

The Ocean Memory Art Project: A Live, Immersive Work of Art Explores Deep Ocean Research and the Idea of Ocean Memory - $50,000 In this project, a playwright, a writer, and sound and visual artists will join scientific partners to gather experiential material and scientific data during laboratory visits, research cruises, and a creative residency. Their work will culminate in a live immersive artwork at the intersection of ocean, memory, and human experience.

Elizabeth Kujawinski, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Chris Scholin, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Exploring Microbial Metabolism in the Ocean Through Autonomous Collection of Dissolved Metabolites: A Proof-of-Concept Study - $100,000

Dissolved metabolites are important in structuring marine ecosystems. Currently, collection of samples for metabolite analyses requires collecting samples by hand from ships. This project will automate that process by adapting laboratory-based methods for use with the third generation Environmental Sample Processor, an instrument capable of operating on an autonomous underwater vehicle.

Amy Maas, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences
David Murphy, University of South Florida
Samantha Newton, Oregon State University

Swimming in Sea-Butterflies: Physics, Physiology, Ecology, Art, and Design Inspiration for an Aquatic Micro-Aerial Vehicle - $75,000

Sea-butterflies, a type of open ocean snail, swim with a flapping motion that is reminiscent of terrestrial insects. This study will examine the physics and ecology of this motion to inspire midwater ocean conservation and to design a micro-aerial/aquatic vehicle.

Christopher Martens, Howard Mendlovitz, and Harvey Seim, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Fuel Cell Energy for Sustained Hydrocarbon Time-Series Measurements in the Deep Blue Sea - $100,000

Understanding the impacts of oil and gas releases in the deep sea requires sustained time-series measurements using fast-response sensors and advanced power systems. New fuel cell technology will be coupled with underwater membrane inlet mass spectrometers (MIMS) to investigate subsurface methane plumes from oil and gas seeps along continental margins.

Anna Michel, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Brandon Ballengée, Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University

A Sea of Plastic: Detecting and Picturing Microplastic Debris Found in Marine Environments - $100,000

This effort will advance understanding of microplastics -- or pieces less than five millimeters -- in the ocean by developing new optical technologies for their identification. A series of engaging artworks will be created from collected microplastics

Melissa Omand, University of Rhode Island
Ken O. Buesseler and Anna P.M. Michel, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

SnowClops: Putting Eyes in the Twilight Zone - $100,000

Gravitational sinking of marine snow nourishes deep-sea organisms and sequesters significant atmospheric carbon dioxide annually, but little is understood about the rate at which these particles descend. This project will develop small, low-cost platforms to image marine snow in water and quantify its fate.

Larry Pratt, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

IMPeL: The Immersive Mesopelagic Performance Lab - $25,000

Artists and scientists will research and develop a "performance lab" designed to allow humans to inhabit the perspective of deep sea organisms and embody different processes and patterns key to the daily life and health of the ocean's Mesopelagic zone.

Larry Pratt, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

  • Fiscal agent for grant, ArtCenter College of Design

Maggie Hendrie, ArtCenter College of Design

Seeing the Unseen: Visualizing Flow Patterns of Mesopelagic Ocean Eddies - $75,000

Complex patterns of underwater movement known as eddies are vital to the ocean's health and ultimately affect the Earth's climate. Using emerging data visualization techniques, oceanographers will partner with designers in bringing these elusive structures to light so they can be better understood by scientists and the public.

Alyson Santoro, University of California, Santa Barbara
Emily Frost and Nancy Knowlton, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

Small Wonder: Inside the World of Marine Microbes on the Smithsonian's Ocean Portal - $75,000

An interdisciplinary team will develop interactive content and activities on marine microbes for the Smithsonian's Ocean Portal website. Microbes are vital to every ocean process; this project will put microbes in the spotlight and test new ways of engaging with the public.

Madhvi Venkatesh, Harvard Medical School

  • Fiscal agent for grant, Prakriti Dance

Kasi Aysola, Prakriti Dance
Lisa-ann Gershwin, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Anjna Swaminathan
Ramya Kapadia, Natyarpana School of Music and Dance

Through Fish Eyes - $100,000

This thematic dance production will portray the struggles of deep ocean ecosystems to cope with anthropogenic impacts. The project will involve audiences in discussions and presentations to raise awareness about the effects of human activities on the Mesopelagic zone and how these impacts can be mitigated.

Timothy Weaver, University of Denver
Jennifer Biddle, University of Delaware
Jody Deming, University of Washington
Jonathan Berger, Stanford University

A Data Transcoding Toolkit and Spatiotemporal Listening Environment for the Creative and Scientific Exploration of Emerging Sonification Interactions With Deep Ocean Microbial Ecology (soniDOME) - $100,000

The soniDome Project will collaboratively develop data transformation software tools and methods to expand the creative and scientific understanding of deep ocean microbial ecologies. The goal is to create novel listening environments for presentation of data or expressive and informative purposes.

Karen Wishner and Christopher Roman, University of Rhode Island
Mark Ballora, Pennsylvania State University

Sonifications of Oxygen and Temperature Data in the Ocean: Creating a "Data Stethoscope" to Detect the Ocean's Vital Signs - $50,000

A "data stethoscope" will be created to translate into sound measurements of temperature, oxygen, and biomass collected from the ocean's depths. The sonifications may reveal interactions between biological and physical properties of the ocean's oxygen-minimum zones that are not evident through visual graphs alone.

Patricia Yager and Julie Spivey, University of Georgia
Curtis Deutsch and Hartmut Frenzel, School of Oceanography, University of Washington

Mapping Deep Blue Habitat in a Changing Climate - $100,000

This project will create an interactive data visualization platform that maps projected changes in deep ocean habitat. This platform will be useful to scientists, educators, conservationists, ocean resource managers, and policymakers, and will also be modified for use in aquariums, science museum exhibits, and online.


A summary of the conference, "Discovering the Deep Blue Sea: Research, Innovation, Social Engagement," will be available by late summer at

Established through a $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 2003, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative is a 15-year effort to enhance communication among researchers, funding agencies, universities, and the general public -- with the objective of stimulating interdisciplinary research at the most exciting frontiers. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the W.M. Keck Foundation believe considerable scientific progress and social benefit will be achieved by providing a counterbalance to the tendency to isolate research within academic fields. The Futures Initiative enables researchers from different disciplines to focus on new questions and entirely new research, and to encourage better communication among scientists as well as between the scientific community and the public. For more information about NAKFI, please visit For more information about the W.M. Keck Foundation, please visit

The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine was established in 2013 as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental, and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas. The program funds studies, projects, and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring. To learn more about the Gulf Research Program, including grants and other funding opportunities, visit


Molly Galvin, Senior Media Officer

Anne Heberger Marino, Senior Program Director, National Academies Keck Futures Initiative
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