Thursday, March 26, 1998 | 10:24 a.m.
The man who discovered the remains of the Titanic is using cutting-edge technology to deliver online, underwater science lessons to 20,000 Clark County students this week.
Robert Ballard, who in 1985 found the eerie bulk of the sunken cruise ship at the bottom of the Atlantic, is also the leader of the nine-year-old JASON Project. The national program each year brings live science lessons to students all over the world via the Internet.
This year, Ballard is directing lessons from Monterey Bay and Bermuda, where scientists and teachers are studying the effects of weather phenomenon El Nino on ocean fish and fauna.
Every day this week and last week, Clark County schools have been busing groups of students to the Community College of Southern Nevada's Cheyenne campus to watch live, one-hour programs on three huge screens.
Ballard directs the live programs which cut to scientists in underwater kelp forests and coral reefs, students in science labs, and live action on exploration ships at sea.
Students, many of whom have seen the blockbuster movie "Titanic," said Ballard was a cool teacher.
"He discovered Titanic," Addeliar Guy Elementary School fifth-grader Bobby DeMuth said. "I want to be a scientist when I grow up. I consider him as a role model."
JASON leaders during the ocean lessons downplay Ballard's Titanic discovery.
"We try not to have them zone in on the Titanic and (instead) steer them toward the environmental lessons," Joyce Woodhouse, who coordinates the local JASON project, explained. "We're not about movies. But it does attract a lot of interest."
Ballard launched the JASON Project in 1989 after students continued to ask if they could travel to the bottom of the ocean to see Titanic. Since then, JASON has taken students to Hawaii, Iceland, Belize and Baja, Calif., via Internet.
Local teachers said JASON brings ocean life to desert kids.
"We're inner-city Las Vegas," Ray Martin Middle School teacher Chuck Younglove said. "They can't experience things there that they can with JASON."
This year, two people from Clark County were chosen to participate in the Monterey Bay JASON expedition.
Dorothy Eisenberg Elementary School teacher Sharon Pearson, an oceans buff who grew up in Southern California and taught in San Diego for eight years, said it was a thrill to work with Ballard and study the ocean.
"He has such a fascination in science," Pearson said. "He believes you have to do mental push-ups. If you want fun time, you have to do the work to get there."
Pearson said she was floored by the technology used to produce JASON simulcasts. Among the gadgets: miniature monitors used by underwater divers to link themselves to students watching worldwide.
"It's an awesome adventure in technology," Pearson said.
Faith Lutheran High School sophomore Eric Cummins agreed. The 15-year-old returned Sunday after 12 days with the Monterey Bay expedition. Cummins, one of 26 students selected to participate, worked with Ballard and took trips on the dive and research boats.
"Robert Ballard is my hero," Cummins said. "It started in third grade when my teacher gave me a book about the Titanic, that was when he discovered it. I fell in love with that. I've always followed his work."
Cummins said Ballard sometimes tires of discussing the Titanic, although he and the ocean explorer talked about the ship and the movie. Ballard liked the blockbuster, but Cummins said he and Ballard discussed their surprise that "Titanic" surpassed "Star Wars" in gross box office sales.
"He thought 'Star Wars' was better," Cummins said.
Visit the website www.jasonproject.org to learn more about JASON.