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Federal and state officials tour Marine Science Center

Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun hosted a high-level Massachusetts legislative delegation—including U.S. Sen. John Kerry and U.S. Rep. John Tierney—on a tour Wednesday of the university’s Marine Science Center in Nahant.

Organized by state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester, the visit showcased the university’s innovative, use-inspired research aimed at improving sonar monitoring of fish populations and homeland security applications of robotic technologies.

Kerry, Tierney and Ferrante were joined by state Sen. Bruce Tarr, also of Gloucester, and Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO of Legal Sea Foods.

President Aoun said researchers at the Marine Science Center and Northeastern’s other centers of excellence strive to merge fundamental and applied research to meet the greatest societal needs. He added that the university is focusing its research enterprise on the themes of health, security and sustainability.

Professor and biologist Geoffrey Trussell, director of the center, touted the research facility as being uniquely positioned to address critical environmental issues involving the world’s oceans.

Among these are fish populations, a subject of deep interest to Purnima Ratilal, associate professor of computer and electrical engineering. Ratilal told the legislators about her research using Ocean Acoustic Waveguide Remote Sensing technology to detect the movement of shoals of fish. The imaging technology, co-developed byRatilal and Prof. Nicholas Makris of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, iscapable of mapping a 100-kilometer area of ocean in 75 seconds andhas tremendous benefits to both marine researchers and the fishing industry.

Neurobiologist Joseph Ayers described the work of his team in developing a robotic lobster and lamprey capable of detecting underwater mines. He plans to further explore how these and other autonomous robots can work collaboratively in groups on large-scale projects.

“We are developing robots with behavioral capabilities…in environments where the Navy has some great interest in knowing what is going on,” said Ayers, whose other projects include robotic bees that can pollinate crops and a non-polluting mariculture system to cultivate food fish in the ocean.

Kerry and Tierney expressed strong interest in the research and a desire to continue working with Northeastern on ways to expand their scope and secure additional funding. Kerry called the sonar technology “a fish finder on steroids.”

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