Milestone-Proposal:Ocean Exploration Technologies

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Docket #:

This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on the edit button in toolbar above, indicated by an icon displaying a pencil on paper. At the bottom of the form, check the box that says "Submit this proposal to the IEEE History Committee for review. Only check this when the proposal is finished" and save the page.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:

1964 to present (2019)

Title of the proposed milestone:

Alvin: Deep Human Occupied Research Submersible, 1964 to 2019

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

Alvin has permitted a crew of three to explore the seafloor as deep as 6500m. Launched in 1964, Alvin relocated a lost H bomb off Spain in 1966. Hyperbaric microbiology was stimulated by observation of inhibition of bacterial decomposition of a deeply deployed crew lunch in 1969. Hydrothermal vents were discovered in 1976 leading to more than 5000 dives through 2019 to study the seafloor.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

Providence Section

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Providence Section
Senior Officer Name: Jason Gaudette

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Providence Section
Senior Officer Name: Jason Gaudette

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Providence Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Jason Gaudette

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Albert J. Williams 3rd
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

86 Water St., Woods Hole, MA 02543; 41-31.5N, 70-40.3W

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. Smith Laboratory of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where Alvin was designed, taken to sea and deployed. It is operated by WHOI but owned by US Navy. The proposed mounting site is in sight of the WHOI Guards.

Are the original buildings extant?

Yes but the office where most of the early designers had desks is upstairs from a coffee shop and not suitable for a plaque.

Details of the plaque mounting:

The mounting will be where a former fire call box was mounted outside on a brick wall at eye level. It is near the wooden welsome sign to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution with a map and other information.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The plaque can be approached freely and touched but the night watchman and weekend guards can see and protect the plaque as they can do for the Smith Building plaque on the opposite wall that has stood for 50 years.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

Alvin was the first mobile deep diving research vehicle. The bathyscaph Trieste was earlier,1960, (and deeper) but was practically more of an elevator. It was only when scientists discovered things not seen from cores and trawls that the science of seafloor discovery began and even then it was slow to start. But the discovery of hyperbaric microbiology lead to a new field and, though accidental, was an Alvin accident. Hydrothermal vents were the biggest discovery attributed to Alvin and led to a great deal of biological and geological scientific study which is ongoing more than 40 years later. Technical developments were required by observational needs such as high resolution color digital cameras (1976), trim and ballast tanks, and manipulators, subsequently copied on other submersibles. One of the developments leading to more general underwater navigation was the acoustic ALNAV array of transponders that permitted a surface ship to know Alvin's location. Lighting and pressure resisting plexiglass windows were needed for observers to see and photograph what was on the seafloor. Samplers used with manipulators allowed sample collection into thermally insulated and even pressure sealed containers for recovery to the surface for cold, hyperbaric studies of the unusual life forms found at hydrothermal vents.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

Initially, few scientists felt it necessary for anyone to go to the seafloor to see what was there so reluctance at the start meant there had to be push from a few scientists, Allyn Vine for one, rather than pull by biologists or geologists. But when discoveries began to be made, the scientists' attitude changed. Eyeballs inside Alvin for seafloor observations remained unchallenged until Remote Operated Vehicles and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles came along in 1976 and later.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

Alvin has an operational capability that exceeds other, later submersibles, with close coupling between the engineers and scientists to maximize the discoveries possibles. The discovery of living communities of animals at deep, dark, cold hydrothermal vents followed by the discovery of very hot hydrothermal smokers with their own communities revealed a life system powered by chemical systems rather than photosynthesis. This last realization, based upon Alvin observations, has led to a belief among many that life on earth may have started at hydrothermal vents and perhaps may have done so on other planets or moons of the solar system. Availability of Alvin to scientists from other research institutions through UNOLS scheduling has permitted observational and experimental work to be done by the best in the world. Maturity of the operations of Alvin means that the number of dive days per year exceeds other deep diving submersibles giving an advantage to scientists using Alvin.

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.