Bob The Drifter Inspires Singapore Classroom to Conduct Oil Spill Research Experiment

Students first created their drifter design on an iPad before constructing it in real life. (Provided by: Jenny Harter)

(Click to enlarge) Students first created their drifter design on an iPad before constructing it in real life. (Provided by: Jenny Harter)

A fourth grade class at Singapore American School found Bob the Drifter and the CARTHE science group while researching ocean science and pollution online.

CARTHE’s drifter experiments, GLAD and SCOPE, are helping scientists understand how ocean surface currents move pollutants such as oil. CARTHE’s visually-engaging experiments and their animated, data-gathering mascot “Bob” motivated these young students to build and test their own ocean drifter!

Students assumed roles as researchers, engineers, communication managers, and outreach coordinators for their experiment and began working on a drifter prototype. They created videos, posters, comics, and even a Popplet mind-map describing what they had learned about drifters tracking oil spills. The class wanted input from CARTHE, so their teacher Jenny Harter emailed CARTHE Outreach Manager Laura Bracken and explained that they wanted to launch their own drifter in Singapore and share data. The CARTHE team was impressed with the students’ passion and professionalism and was eager to help.

The Singapore students, their teacher, and Bracken held a Skype session to discuss drifter design and answer questions about how CARTHE conducted their experiments. The students asked technical questions about how the drifters’ GPS units are powered and how often data is recorded. They used Bracken’s feedback to design and build their drifter prototype, which they tested in their school’s pool. They plan to replace the design’s cardboard components with wood ones to improve their drifter’s float time before the next test. See a video of one of their tests here.

A good scientist knows that communicating research and findings is as important as the experiments themselves, so the class outreach team created a presentation explaining drifters, CARTHE, and tracking oil spills. They shared their presentation with the students at their school to spread awareness about their project. Ultimately, they hope to make sturdier, better functioning drifters like “Bob” that can track oil spills and provide data to researchers in Singapore and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Visit CARTHE’s outreach page for more information about Student Drifter Programs and other outreach projects.


This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE).

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit

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