This webpage is a resource center and workspace for registered GeoChallenge Coordinators and their Coaches. We’ll post information about the competition to this site, including news and events. Check back often!
Through her work, National Geographic Explorer Kakani Katija sees the effects of plastic pollution in our marine environment and its inhabitants. Kakani is a principal engineer and principal investigator and leads the Bioinspiration Lab at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. An active scientific diver, Kakani designs and deploys underwater tools like robotic vehicles and underwater imaging lasers to learn about ocean life. The technology and tools that Kakani develops expand the possibilities of scientific discovery in some of the most remote parts of the ocean.
On her current expedition, Kakani is exploring the ocean twilight zone (200-1,000 meters deep), seeking information and inspiration to develop bio-inspired engineering technologies of the future. Show your GeoChallenge team(s) this short video about her early research on jellyfish and water flow.
Kakani and her team have been studying Bathochordaeus, a giant larvacean in the waters off of California. Using a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, and specialized lasers and cameras, Kakani’s team discovered that these giant mucus-generating animals eat and trap microplastics in their filtering houses, and then leave behind plastic-rich mucus and feces that end up on the ocean floor. Larvaceans, their houses, and their feces are food for many other sea animals, thus introducing microplastics into the food chain. Working with other scientists, Katija has recently learned that microplastics are found from the sea surface to 1,000 meters, and potentially deeper. This research confirms that plastic pollution is not just a surface-of-the-ocean problem.
Here’s more about giant larvaceans and MBARI’s discoveries about microplastics:
Originally from Hawaii and raised in Portland, Oregon, Kakani started ice skating at the age of five, eventually becoming a member of the U.S. International Figure Skating Team. Kakani’s higher education began in aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Washington. Kakani then earned her M.S. in aeronautics and her Ph.D. in bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology. In pursuing her research interests, Kakani has lived and worked all over the world, exploring the ocean depths to learn about mysterious marine creatures using scuba and robots from the sea surface to 4,000 meters deep.
Follow these links to “dive in” to Kakani Katija’s research, career, and what inspires her:
Here is a sampling of related National Geographic resources. The following images and articles can help jumpstart your students’ project work by providing a sense of urgency and inspiration for their brainstorming.
Please use caution when sharing resources so that you do not give your students a solution. As a GeoChallenge Coach, your job is to facilitate your students' research and work. Share resources sparingly and avoid proposing solutions or steering the inquiry in a specific direction. This is a student-centered project and not an extension of instruction taking place within the school day. At most, these web pages should be a starting point for brainstorming ideas that may lead to an innovative solution.
Resources from National Geographic Kids, including a kid pledge to reduce plastics
Featuring National Geographic Explorer Shannon Switzer
A curated collection of National Geographic Education resources—a great starting point for your research
Learn more about and join National Geographic’s multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis
Articles and images from the June 2018 Plastics issue of National Geographic magazine
Live online video events with Dr. Kakani Katija, other National Geographic Explorers, and GeoChallenge staff. During these online hangouts, student teams can connect directly with National Geographic Explorers’ plastic pollution stories and ask for advice on their GeoChallenge projects.
We will post links to the recordings here following each event so that all GeoChallenge teams can access the videos for hints and inspiration.
Oct. 25 at 4:00 pm ET - Engineering solutions with Kakani Katija
Through her work, GeoChallenge Explorer Kakani Katija sees the effects of plastic pollution in our marine environment and its inhabitants daily. She will discuss plastics in the ocean, creating engineering tools to answer questions and finding solutions in nature.
Oct. 30 at 3:30 noon ET - Sharing solutions through video with Lillygol Sedaghat
Environmental journalist and NG Explorer Lillygol Sedaghat will discuss her research into Taiwan’s plastic waste management and how to use digital storytelling to communicate your plastic pollution solution.
Nov. 7 at 2:00 pm ET - Creating your GeoChallenge map with Alex Tait
Maps are a great way to communicate ideas and help your audience relate to a problem or issue. National Geographic’s Geographer, Alex Tait, will discuss some of the basics of mapmaking and ways to map your GeoChallenge creatively. Bring your questions on how to tell your story with your map.
Nov. 15 at 1:00 pm ET - Engineering solutions with Kakani Katija
Through her work, GeoChallenge Explorer Kakani Katija sees the effects of plastic pollution in our marine environment and its inhabitants daily. She will discuss plastics in the ocean, creating engineering tools to answer questions and finding solutions in nature. This session will be similar to the one on Oct. 25, so come with new questions.
Nov. 20 at 10:00 am ET - Microplastics in everyday items with Imogen Napper
Marine biologist and NG Explorer Imogen Napper seeks out the tiniest plastics in our everyday lives and designs solutions to prevent them getting into the ocean. From cosmetics to laundry, Imogen will discuss how she investigates the sources of marine plastics and develops solutions to prevent them from reaching the ocean.
Computer and high-speed internet, projection is nice, but not necessary.
These sessions are for registered GeoChallenge students and their Coaches. It is free to participate, but registration is required. The first six sites to register can participate on-camera and ask questions directly. All teams can ask questions via chat.
Register your team(s) here.
Online sessions with GeoChallenge staff and experienced GeoChallenge Coaches providing an overview of the program and answering any questions.
Oct 22 at 4 pm ET - Getting Started on Tackling Plastic!
Nov 6 at 12:30 pm ET - Guiding Teams as They Tackle Plastic
Dec 5 at 8:30 pm ET - How to Submit your GeoChallenge Project(s)
Sessions will be conducted via Zoom and are for registered GeoChallenge participants (no students, please). Links and more information will be emailed to registered participants prior to the session. Sessions will be recorded and the links will be posted here for those who couldn’t make it.
Register here for GeoChallenge Coach/Coordinator webinars.