JUSTL participant: Ms Tjasa Boh Whiteman

21 May 2020

Ms Tjasa Boh Whiteman is currently applying for PhD positions at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, Australia. She is applying to engineering laboratories for projects to design robots for use in space. She was an MPhil student in the engineering laboratory of Professor John Billingsley at the University of Southern Queensland but was actually working with a collaborator, Dr Robin Bradbeer (formerly of the Centre for Robotics and Automation at City University of Hong Kong), when she attended the JUSTL programme in 2014.

JUSTL Programme

Ms Boh Whiteman was one of the few participants to work at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) rather than at the MBL, and she was the only engineering student who attended the JUSTL programme. At WHOI, Ms Boh Whiteman’s mentor was Dr Michael Jakuba, Senior Engineer in the Department of Ocean Physics and Engineering, and during her two months in Woods Hole, Ms Boh Whiteman was involved in the ROV nUI (remotely operated vehicle nereid under ice) project. At the time, the nUI was a new ROV that was being developed to work exclusively on the deep-sea floor under ice, using a data-only fiber optic tether about three times the width of a human hair to provide the back link to the support ship. The main structure of the vehicle was already complete when Ms Boh Whiteman arrived in Woods Hole and so her job was to help install and test the navigation, instrument telemetry and other systems. She was also involved in testing the deployment mechanisms and calculations of tether behaviour, which led to successful deployment.

She also introduced the project team she was working with, to the aviation style of instrument panels and the human factors behind them. This involved showing the team the instrumentation panels on various aircraft, from planes at the local airport to large modern jets, to highlight the differences between digital and analogue control panels and why they have been designed the way they have.

One event that Ms Boh Whiteman remembers well is when she was invited to give a presentation describing her MPhil work on underwater traction. She recalls that there was a room full of professionals who came to hear her speak, and she said that this is when she realised that, “… this is where I belong, this is what I should be doing. It was scary but it felt right.”

The ability to work alongside the world’s top experts in the Deep Sea Robotics programme was an exceptional opportunity, which I am very grateful for.

Ms Boh Whiteman also recalls Deepsea Challenger being at WHOI when she was there. This is the deep-diving submersible, which was designed to reach the floor of Challenger Deep, which is located in Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific Ocean. The Canadian film director, James Cameron, piloted the vessel and reached this deepest point on Earth in March 2012. Ms Boh Whiteman remembers that they would “quite shamelessly” take batteries and other spare parts out of Challenger for use on the nUI.

Ms Boh Whiteman describes her time in Woods Hole as being “absolutely phenomenal.” She still keeps in contact with Dr Jakuba as well as other members of the ROV team. She said that the various people she met there were all very experienced and experts in their field. However, one person who Ms Boh Whiteman particularly remembers is Ms Loral O’Hara. She was an engineer who worked at WHOI on the deep-ocean research submersible, Alvin, and the ROV, Jason. However, in 2017 Ms O’Hara got selected to join the astronaut training programme at NASA.

To sum up her time in Woods Hole on the JUSTL programme, Ms Boh Whiteman said, “The ability to work alongside the world’s top experts in the Deep Sea Robotics programme was an exceptional opportunity, which I am very grateful for. In the field of marine robotics, especially for deep sea operations, there are only a handful of institutes in the world that have the capability and expertise to run current operations and ongoing research simultaneously. There are even fewer institutes that willingly accept students and incorporate them into existing teams, making them vital parts of the project. WHOI does all of these things, and the JUSTL programme provided me with the opportunity to experience this first-hand.”