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Practices of Science: Scientific Drawing

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas


SF Fig. 4.2. William Beebe and Otis Barton with a deep diving bathysphere

Image courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

Off the coast of Nonsuch Island in Bermuda on August 15, 1934, William Beebe and Otis Barton made history by descending in their bathysphere over 900 m beneath the ocean surface. The bathysphere was a cast iron sphere that could fit two people. The sphere weighed over 2,000 kg with walls 0.5 m thick (SF Fig. 4.2). It was tethered to a ship and two men were sealed inside using a 38 cm, 180 kg circular door.


William Beebe was a naturalist who had spent two years studying deep-sea creatures that were captured in trawling nets. Instead of catching these animals, Beebe hoped to see these creatures swimming in the deep sea. Unlike today, when we have modern submarines and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), they had no way to collect samples from the bathysphere. Instead, Beebe and Barton viewed the ocean through two, eight-inch wide windows.


During the descent into the ocean, Beebe maintained communication with Gloria Hollister onboard the research ship using a telephone wire. As they descended, Beebe described the creatures that passed by the bathysphere, “Here’s a fish with nothing but teeth illuminated, mouth one inch across, does not close completely. Teeth are lighted from the bottom upward with black between” (p. 213, Half Mile Down, Beebe). To record images of the creatures he observed, Beebe required the help of artist and scientific illustrator, Else Bostelmann. The telephone communications allowed Bostelmann to paint illustrations of the creatures Beebe described. When the bathysphere re-surfaced, Beebe and Bostelmann worked together to add details and refine the drawings so the illustrations would match the proportions, size, color, and lights of the deep-sea fish.


Question Set
  1. Look at a picture of a fish for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Put the picture away and describe the fish as best you can from memory. Look back at your picture and describe the differences between your description and the picture.
  2. Describe some of the inaccuracies that you think might result from the artist needing to rely on Beebe’s descriptions rather than being able to see the fish herself.
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.