An eighth-grade science project that flopped inspired a lifelong love of oceanography for a New York City kid who recently retired as chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Dr. Rick Spinrad credits his junior high science teacher for asking all the right questions when his echo sounder experiment was unsuccessful.

“I worked on it for months,” Dr. Spinrad recalls about his attempt to build a device to measure ocean depth. “And I failed miserably.”

But the teacher did not dismiss his efforts. Instead, the young scientist was asked, “Why did you fail? What didn’t work? How would you do it differently?”

Dr. Spinrad can still reel off the answers that required further research into the field of oceanography.

“I needed to know something more about how sound travels in the ocean; I needed to know something more about electronics. I needed to know something more about how to put something in the ocean and keep it from swinging around like that.

“And,” he said, “I was absolutely hooked.”

That early love of research has continued. His many career highlights include leadership of the White House committee that developed the nation’s first set of ocean research priorities and oversaw the revamping of NOAA’s research enterprise.

Dr. Spinrad will speak at The Belfry on Tuesday, September 24 to launch the 2019-2020 Frontiers in Science series.

“By one estimate, there are one million undiscovered species in the oceans right now,” Dr. Spinrad points out, adding that only about 5 percent of the ocean floor has even been surveyed.

What has been found, however, is critical to the future health of humans and the planet we inhabit:

• Half the anti-cancer drug discoveries right now come from marine products or organisms.

• Oceans drive the Earth’s weather and climate system. For example, fire seasons are much longer than they were 30 years ago, and that’s largely because oceans drive where the rain falls, where the winds blow and where the Earth gets hotter.

• If we would like to continue to breathe, then a healthy ocean is a must-have; up to one half of our oxygen is generated by the oceans.

Dr. Spinrad embraces the title of his talk: “How Oceanography Will Save the World.”

Food security, cures for cancer, thousands of everyday products that either come from the sea or are transported over it, national defense, and climate impacts: Dr. Spinrad argues that the scientific study of our oceans is critical to understanding its potential as well as its fragile future.

Dr. Spinrad’s lecture, sponsored by the Sisters Science Club, starts at 7 p.m. at The Belfry.

Social hour begins at 6 p.m. with light fare, beer, and wine available. Admission is $5; teachers and students are admitted free. The Belfry is located at 302 E. Main Ave., Sisters.

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