Erika Woolsey
Author: Sally Keith
2023

Erika Woolsey

Underwater Explorer

sea the future

meet erika

Erika Woolsey is a marine biologist, National Geographic Explorer, virtual and augmented reality creator, visiting scholar at the Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab, and Chief Scientist and CEO of the Hydrous. The latter is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit launched to create “Open Access Oceans” so that all people may explore, understand, and engage with marine environments. Woolsey undertook her PhD research on coral reef ecology on the Great Barrier Reef, investigating coral larval ecology and biogeography in a warming ocean with James Cook University and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Prior to that, she earned a Master of Applied Science degree in Coastal Management at the University of Sydney.

sea the future
Nominated by: Joe Grabowski FI'18
Class of 2023 Location California, USA

While there is no replacement for exploring environments firsthand, many places on Earth, especially in the ocean, are unreachable by most. My work seeks to make those regions more accessible using immersive technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, which can make people feel truly present in places they may never go. In the 2022 report An Introduction to Learning in the Metaverse, my colleagues and I contended that while immersive technologies can increase one’s motivation to learn and capacity to teach, they are not without limitations when it comes to cognitive load and accessibility, which is why content must be designed and applied thoughtfully. To this end, I’ve been lucky to create leading-edge content, as well as to test deployment strategies, measure impact, and publish results with such partners as National Geographic and Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

“The research is new, but the power of this medium for exploring, storytelling, and science learning is impossible to ignore.”

- Erika Woolsey
Author: Scott R Kline

I’m thankful for the personal interactions I’ve had leading virtual dives. I’ve had seasoned divers excitedly tell me that experiencing my VR felt like diving in real life. Kids have shared that diving virtually with docile reef sharks built their courage to swim in the ocean. People with physical limitations have thanked me for the experience with tears in their eyes. I’ve never had those types of interactions following a lecture or a workshop; I’ve only had such emotional responses after leading a real-life dive or ocean excursion. The research is new, but the power of this medium for exploring, storytelling, and science learning is impossible to ignore. All of the immersive experiences I create are freely available and were designed by multidisciplinary teams to assist marine science learning and to generate ocean empathy. My goal is to connect 10 million learners to the ocean by 2030 and build “an inspiring and engaging ocean,” as described by the United Nations’ Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030), for which the Hydrous is a program partner.

Erika with a quadraterika
Erika with a quadraterika Author: Rick Miskiv

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