James Cameron, renowned director of the film Titanic, was recently featured in a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution video, where he joined a panel of incredible people to discuss the revolutionary technologies and engineering feats that enable researchers to explore the ocean like never before. Aside from his revolutionary filmography, Cameron has become a well-known pioneer throughout the oceanographic industry in his own right. On March 26th, 2012, Cameron became the first person in history to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench solo. Aboard the Deepsea Challenger, which was specifically designed to reach a daunting 11,000 meters using specialty syntactic foam and other technological breakthroughs, Cameron was able to collect data, study specimens, and capture footage which had never been done before.
Before syntactic foam, large exploration vehicles weighed upwards of 100 tons and utilized giant steel balloons filled with gasoline as a buoyancy solution that needed to be towed and lowered off the side of a boat via crane. No one could figure out a substance that both provided floatation at the bottom of the ocean while being able to withstand the crushing force of the hydrostatic pressure. In the WHOI video below, Cameron describes how “somebody got the bright idea of putting little tiny, glass microspheres into an epoxy matrix because glass is the strongest material in compression that we know ”. He also emphasized how this “engineering hack” transformed the next generation of vehicles and the impact syntactic foam has had on the world of oceanographic exploration.
Check out the video below to watch James Cameron’s thoughts on syntactic foam.