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Experience the thrills and defeats of an authentic deep sea adventure as you immerse yourself in the CATALYST 2 Mission Log. More>>

Waitt Institute

The Waitt Institute is a non-profit research organization that serves as an exploration catalyst, enabling scientific pioneers to transform the ways in which discoveries are made. More »

Team Members

CATALYST 2 Staff…

Ted Waitt

Ted Waitt

Ted Waitt
CATALYST 2 Expedition Leader
Founder and President,
Waitt Institute

As co-founder and former chairman and CEO of Gateway, Inc., Ted Waitt has always been a pioneer, helping to make people’s lives better. Retiring in 2005, he is now a full-time entrepreneur and philanthropist and has been named by Business Week in the prestigious group of America’s Top 50 donors  in charitable giving.

After creating the Waitt Foundation in 1993, Ted launched the Waitt Institute in 2005, which funded and operated the 2009 CATALYST 2 search for Amelia Earhart’s airplane in the South Pacific. As the Expedition Leader, Ted provided the singular focus to guide the project from concept to completion with a hands-on approach that put him in the center of every decision-making moment, from the acquisition of the CATALYST AUVs to the day-to-day operations aboard ship.

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Bill Baxley

Bill Baxley

Bill Baxley
CATALYST 2 Shore-Based Project Manager
Director of Technical Operations,
Center for Ocean Engineering and Technology,
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute,
Florida Atlantic University

Bill Baxley joined the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in 1992 with a degree in ocean engineering from Florida Institute of Technology. He worked as an ocean engineer on Navy projects involving acoustics, underwater vehicles, underwater measurement arrays and buoy-based detection systems, leading numerous at-sea operations. Bill joined Harbor Branch in May 2008 as the director of technical operations for engineering, fabrication and marine operations. As the shore-based CATALYST 2 Project Manager, Bill provided logistical and technical support for onboard operations from the Center for Ocean Engineering and Technology at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

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Craig Caddigan, AUV Vehicle Operator from HBOI.

Craig Caddigan

Craig Caddigan
CATALYST 2 AUV Operator/Technician, Leg 1
Senior Submersible Pilot/Dive Safety Officer,
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute,
Florida Atlantic University

Joining Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in 1982, Craig Caddigan has held several positions there, including mechanical submersible technician, lockout diver/tender and marine operations dive supervisor. In 1986, Craig qualified as a JOHNSON-SEA-LINK Submersible Pilot, and is currently working as a senior submersible pilot/dive safety officer, doubling as a submersible operations coordinator while at sea. Special missions he has participated in include the Space Shuttle Challenger, the Civil War Ironclad Monitor and Trident missile recoveries. Craig was an AUV Operator and Technician for Leg 1 of the CATALYST 2 Mission.

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Steve Dabagian

Steve Dabagian
CATALYST 2 Sonar Analyst
President,
Ocean Systems International, Inc.

With over 29 years of experience working in coastal and offshore oceanographic operations, Steve Dabagian has participated in the acquisition and processing of a wide array of data sets pertaining to the ocean environment in locations around the globe. A member of various scientific teams studying physical, geophysical, chemical and biological aspects of the sea, its floor and its coasts, Steve provided invaluable expertise as the CATALYST 2 Sonar Analyst.

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Mark Dennett, AUV Vehicle Operator from WHOI

Mark Dennett

Mark Dennett
CATALYST 2 AUV Mechanical Engineer/Operator
Research Specialist, Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Mark Dennett joined the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1974, working primarily in the field of microbial ecology. Involved in many oceanic projects during his career, one of the most recent was in the Amundsen and Ross Sea using an underwater video microscope (a video plankton recorder) to examine community composition under the sea ice. Mark began working in the field of AUV exploration this past year while with the CATALYST Program, serving as AUV Mechanical Engineer and Operator during the mission.

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Michael Dessner

Michael Dessner
CATALYST 2 Director of Operations
Director of Operations,
Waitt Institute

Michael Dessner grew up in northeastern Iowa, studied at the University of Iowa, served as a radar control crew member in the U.S. Army from 1984-1988, and then in the early 1990’s began a 12-year stint working in all aspects of Alaska’s fisheries. He has lived and worked on the water ever since, managing shore-side facilities and offshore operations. Asked by Ted Waitt to join his team in 2005, Michael is the  Waitt Institute Director of Operations and served in that  capacity on CATALYST 2 , assisting in managing all aspects of the expedition. His reports to Ted Waitt form the basis of the Mission Log.

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Michael DiBello

Michael F. DiBello,
CATALYST 2 Flight Reconstruction Research Assistant
Airline Captain

Mike DiBello has more than 30 years worldwide experience as an airline pilot flying international and domestic routes, and is presently a captain with a major airline. His more than 20 years as a naval aviator includes service in both active and reserve squadrons, including a tour as commanding officer of a Naval Air Reserve attack squadron. During his extensive airline career he has served as chief pilot, fleet manager, and senior check airman and instructor pilot. Management experience includes aircraft operations procedure and policy development, flight operations administration and airline business operations. He is a graduate of Purdue University with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He served as a Research Assistant to CATALYST 2 Flight Reconstruction Lead Chris Nutter, analyzing the Earhart flight profile from Lae to Howland Island.

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Gregg Diffendale, Marine Technician  on the R/V Seward Johnson from University of Miami.

Gregg Diffendale

Gregg Diffendale
CATALYST 2 AUV Technician
Marine Technician, R/V Seward Johnson,

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute,
University of Miami

Receiving his B.S. in computer science from Eckerd College in 2008, with minors in physics, mathematics and leadership, Gregg Diffendale started programming semi-autonomous robots in 2003, diagnosed and fully repaired Eckerd College’s hydrogen splitting laboratory in 2006, was recently published in the journal Physics Review C for his work with Eckerd College in 2006 coding an online model to calculate the elastic nucleon-nucleus scattering potential, and started working on his own autonomous crawler in 2007 at the Machine Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Florida. Gregg is now employed with the University of Miami as a marine technician aboard the R/V Seward Johnson at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI), where he has re-designed and created a prototype for the MOCNESS (Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sampling System) used by several notable oceanographic institutions. The shipboard IT technician for the HBOI team during Leg 1 of CATALYST 2, Gregg joined the Waitt Institute crew as an AUV Technician, in addition to his IT duties, for Leg 2.

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Bob Elder

Robert Elder

Robert Elder
CATALYST 2 AUV Operator/Technician
Project Manager,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Holding a B.S. in electrical engineering from San Diego State University, Robert Elder worked with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography for approximately six years on their Deep Tow Project (a towed vehicle with sidescan sonar, cameras and other sensors), a precursor to the towed vehicles used for CATALYST 2. In 1987, he was hired by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the Deep Submergence Lab as an electrical engineer for the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Jason, soon becoming the lead electrical engineer responsible for the philosophical design and layout of a new vehicle. In 2007, Robert joined the REMUS 6000 team with WHOI, working on vehicles similar to those used during CATALYST 2, and he just finished as project manager in the development of a new 3,000 meter vehicle. With nearly 100 sea trips using oceanographic vehicles to his credit, Robert provided expertise as an AUV Operator/Technician during CATALYST 2.

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Lee Frey, CATALYST 2 Project Manager from HBOI.

Lee Frey

Lee Frey
CATALYST 2 Project Manager/Science Mission Director, Leg 1
Senior Ocean Engineer & Project Manager,
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute,
Florida Atlantic University

With his Master’s in ocean engineering from the Florida Institute of Technology, Lee Frey began working with the Harbor Branch Center for Ocean Engineering and Technology in 2002. He is currently the Institute’s Director of the Robotics and Instrumentation Laboratory, specializing in the development of sensors, tools and underwater vehicles for marine science and exploration.
As the CATALYST 2 Project Manager for Leg 1, Lee supervised all shipboard AUV operations and coordinated with team leads and the ship’s crew to carry out the vehicle and science objectives. He also provided engineering support for AUV operations and compiled daily reports on the expedition status, including vehicle efficiency and search grid updates. As Science Mission Director on the expedition, Lee developed and implemented a plan to make use of at-sea time for additional research, including marine biodiversity studies and ocean quality measurements.

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Stephani Gordon, Producer and Videographer.

Stephani Gordon

Stephani Gordon
CATALYST 2 Producer/Videographer
Producer/Videographer,
Open Boat Films

With 12 years of marine field research experience, Stephani is in her element filming science expeditions. She has worked in remote stretches of the wilderness, as well as protected areas near cities. This past year Stephani filmed tundra swan research in northern Alaska, coral reefs in Moorea, pronghorn antelope in Wyoming, ship wrecks on atolls northwest of Hawaii, Joshua trees in the Mojave, and coastal ecosystems in Hawaii. The unpredictable nature of working in the field, the creative and intellectual challenges of editing, and most of all the chance to help researchers communicate their science is what drives her love of film making and made her an ideal CATALYST 2 Producer/Videographer.

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Samantha Guse

Samantha Guse
CATALYST 2 AUV Operator/Technician
Licensed USCG Captain since 2004

Sam grew up in the small coastal fishing community of Cordova, Alaska, where she has participated in commercial fishing, operating/guiding tours and even providing logistical support throughout Prince William Sound for research teams following the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. She worked as First Mate on the M/V Discovery for six years, piloting the waters of south central Alaska, and has been a licensed captain with the United States Coast Guard since 2004. Sam joined the CATALYST 2 Mission as an AUV Operator/Technician.

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MIke Kasic, Sound Recordist and Field Producer

Mike Kasic

Mike Kasic
CATALYST 2 Sound Technician
Director/Owner,
Mike Kasic Sound

Mike Kasic is a sound technician specializing in remote location sound mixing, from the top of a mountain to the bottom of an ocean. Recent credits include: BBC Science/Discovery: “Oceans;” BBC Natural History Unit: Yellowstone;” BBC NHU/Discovery: “Pacific Abyss;” BBC NHU: “Sea Gypsies;” Discovery Channel: “Extreme Survival;” Discovery Channel: “Shark Week: Size Matters;” and, National Geographic Television: “Tempest from the Deep.” Mike was responsible for all audio needs during the CATALYST 2 Mission.

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Ian Kellett, Director and Cinematographer.

Ian Kellett

Ian Kellett
CATALYST 2 Director of Photography
Director/Owner,
Ian Kellett Productions, Inc.

Ian Kellett splits his creative endeavors between broadcast television and non-profit organizations. In the past 10 years he has built an impressive resume filming a wide range of subjects, including tiger sharks, rodeo horses and grizzly bears. He has worked on films in refugee camps in northern Kenya, on diving expeditions in the Amazon, and in the high-cloud forests of Papua New Guinea. Recently, he shot a documentary on Evel Knievel for the BBC in Montana, a special on George Schaller for National Geographic and an expose on dog fighting in Houston. Holding an undergraduate degree in film and natural resources from the University of Michigan and a Master of Fine Arts in science and natural history filmmaking from Montana State, Ian was the CATALYST 2 Director of Photography.

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Joe Lepore

Joe Lepore
CATALYST 2 Deck Safety Officer/AUV Operator
Dive Safety Officer,
Waitt Institute

Joe Lepore serves as the Waitt Institute’s dive safety officer and oversees all deck operations during missions of discovery. Joining the US Navy in 1986, he served for 20 years before retiring in 2006 as Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver, and beginning his career with the Waitt Institute. Accomplishments include completion of the Navy’s schools for 2′nd class diver and 1’st class diver, as well as the schools for salvage, construction and demolition diving. During his service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, six Meritorious Service medals, four Navy commendation medals and four Navy achievement medals. During the CATALYST 2 Mission, Joe performed duties as Deck Safety Officer and AUV Operator.

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Don Liberatore, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

Don Liberatore

Don Liberatore
CATALYST 2 Project Manager/AUV Operator & Technician, Leg 2
Manager, Undersea Vehicles/Chief Submersible Pilot,
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute,
Florida Atlantic University

An employee of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute since 1977, Don Liberatore has held positions as a diver/medic, lockout diver, hyperbaric chamber operator, Johnson-Sea-Link I & II and more. He is currently manager of undersea vehicles and chief submersible pilot for all HBOI manned vehicles. With nearly 1,800 dives as a submersible pilot and over 200 as J-S-L diver/tender, including mixed gas lock-outs to 350′, he has been responsible for retrofitting, maintaining and crew training HBOI submersibles since 1988.

Don has participated in many research and/or recovery operations, including the search and recovery of the Space Shuttle Challenger, excavation and documentation of the U.S.S. Monitor and documentation of the wreck of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. He holds an A.S. in laboratory technology from Staten Island Community College and an A.S. in underwater technology from Florida Institute of Technology.

As the CATALYST 2 Project Manager for Leg 2, Don coordinated with team leads and the ship’s crew to carry out the mission objectives. He also provided engineering support for AUV operations and compiled daily reports on the expedition status, including vehicle efficiency and search grid updates.

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Robin Hunter Littlefield, AUV Mechanical Engineer and Vehicle Operator from WHOI

Robin Hunter Littlefield

Robin Hunter Littlefield
CATALYST 2 AUV Operator/Technician
Engineer, Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

After graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in mechanical engineering, Robin Hunter Littlefield began work at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. His work in the physical oceanography department involved him with SOLO floats and spray gliders, which aid in the understanding of ocean circulation and the resulting effects on global climate. Most recently, Robin has become involved with the REMUS group through the department of applied ocean physics & engineering and is working in the areas of design and vehicle operation. He joined the CATALYST 2 team as an AUV Operator and Technician.

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Neil McPhee

Neil McPhee

Neil McPhee
CATALYST 2 AUV Operator/Technician
Senior Engineer, Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Neil McPhee has worked with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for more than 20 years. He is currently a senior engineering assistant in the instrument systems development lab of the applied ocean physics and engineering department and has been involved with a wide range of projects, including buoy-mounted meteorological sensors, large-scale ocean temperature measurements using acoustics, near-shore ocean acoustics, and various AUV projects. Before joining the WHOI team, Neil worked as an aviation tech in the U.S. Coast Guard where he qualified as an avionicsman and search and rescue aircrewman aboard the HH-3F helicopter. He also flew as a radioman and assistant flight engineer aboard the Lockheed HC-130. Neil was an AUV Operator and Technician with the CATALYST 2 team.

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Stephen D. Murphy, AUV Vehicle Operator from WHOI.

Stephen D. Murphy

Stephen D. Murphy
CATALYST 2 AUV Operator/Technician
Senior Engineering Assistant,

Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Steve began his oceanographic career at Woods Hole in 1984, serving as a crew member aboard Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) vessels. In 1991, Steve joined the WHOI Mooring and Rigging Shop to provide engineering assistance to a large number of field-going investigations. Much of Steve’s work has involved both the electrical and mechanical aspects of the designing, building and servicing of a wide variety of equipment. Steve recently joined the WHOI Mooring Operations, Engineering and Field Support Group, and continues to lend his years of experience to seagoing operations. Steve became a member of the AUV operations team this past year, and participated in CATALYST 2 as an AUV Operator and Technician.

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Christopher Nutter

Christopher Nutter
CATALYST 2 Flight Reconstruction Team Lead
Airline Captain,
Instructor, Viterbi School of Engineering,
University of Southern California

Chris has more than 40 years experience as a pilot spanning general aviation, military and airline operations, and is presently a captain with a major airline. His more than 20-year career as an active duty naval aviator included service as commanding officer of an FA-18C Hornet squadron, based in Lemoore, CA. During his airline career he served seven years as director of flight safety and senior accident investigator, check airman and instructor pilot including ETOPS and RNP training. Management experience includes aircraft operations procedure and policy development, flight safety and airline business operations. A graduate of Purdue University with a degree in industrial management, he holds an MBA, an M.S. in aeronautical engineering, and is a graduate of the USC Aviation Safety Certificate Program and NTSB Training Academy. As the CATALYST 2 Flight Reconstruction Lead, Chris directed the research team that utilized advanced aircraft flight modeling software to analyze Earhart’s flight profile from Lae to Howland Island. The final search area represents the team’s integration of historical data with new approaches to aviation accident reconstruction.

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Greg Packard

Greg Packard

Greg Packard
CATALYST 2 AUV Operations Team Lead
Sr. Engineer, Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Greg Packard is the senior technician within the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s systems lab, and is responsible for the lab’s current at-sea operations of deep-water REMUS vehicles. He ensures the readiness of the Waitt Institute’s AUVs for deployment on missions, the integration of vehicle systems onto shipboard platforms, at-sea coordination, oversight of vehicle operations and the demobilization of equipment. As the at-sea CATALYST 2 AUV Operations Team Lead, Greg managed the AUV onboard technical operations during the expedition. He provided engineering support and maintenance of the AUVs, and directly oversaw the programming of vehicle sorties and the transferring of data to the sonar analysis team.

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Brennan Phillips, AUV Mechanical Engineer and Vehicle Operator from WHOI.

Brennan Phillips

Brennan Phillips
CATALYST 2 AUV Mechanical Engineer/AUV Operator
Engineer, Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Brennan Phillips has been working with underwater vehicles since earning his Bachelor’s in ocean engineering in 2004. While working as an ROV pilot for the University of Rhode Island/Institute for Exploration, he completed a M.S. while studying Antarctic gelatinous zooplankton. He has been involved with numerous at-sea expeditions studying biological, geological and archaeological oceanography, and was an AUV Mechanical Engineer and Operator during the CATALYST 2 Mission.

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Mike Purcell, AUV Engineer

Michael Purcell

Michael Purcell
CATALYST 2 WHOI Team Coordinator
Sr. Engineer, Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Designing, building and testing ocean instruments, buoys and underwater vehicles for over 25 years, Michael has worked in the oceanographic systems laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) since 1991. He holds a Bachelor of Science in ocean engineering from Florida Atlantic University and a Master of Science in ocean engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As the shore-based CATALYST AUV WHOI Team Coordinator, Mike oversaw the AUV technical operations and provided engineering support from shore at the WHOI Oceanographic Systems Laboratory.

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Dominique Rissolo

Dominique Rissolo
CATALYST 2 Expedition Coordinator
Executive Director,
Waitt Institute

Dr. Dominique Rissolo received his Ph.D. and M.A. in anthropology, with an emphasis in archaeology, from the University of California, Riverside, and his B.A. in anthropology, with a minor in geological sciences, from San Diego State University. A practicing archaeologist with field experience in the United States and Latin America, he has published extensively in various journals and has presented numerous research papers at national and international conferences.

Prior to joining the Waitt Institute, Dominique taught anthropology and archaeology at San Diego State University, as well as courses at University of California, San Diego. He is currently a research associate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Director of the Yalahau Archaeological Cave Survey, Co-Director of Proyecto Costa Escondida, and Associate Director of the Yalahau Regional Human Ecology Project.

As the CATALYST 2 Expedition Coordinator, Dominique provided direct oversight in every stage of the expedition, from planning through execution, including the acquisition of the AUVs and selection of team members. He was instrumental in developing partnerships with world-class ocean research institutions and overseeing all cultural and natural resource matters during the expedition.

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Phil Santos, AUV Ops Crew

Phil Santos

Phil Santos
CATALYST 2 AUV Operator/Technician (Leg 2)
Senior Submersible Pilot,
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute,
Florida Atlantic University

Phil Santos is a senior submersible pilot with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute’s manned submersible program. Bringing experience as an operations director with Johnson Sea-Links, Phil was an AUV Operator and Technician with the CATALYST 2 team.

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Andy Sherrell, Chief Sonar Analyst for the CATALYST Program.

Andy Sherrell

Andy Sherrell
CATALYST 2 Sonar Analysis Team Lead
Chief Analyst,
Sherrell Offshore Services (S.O.S.)

With a Bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering from the Florida Institute of Technology, Andy has more than 15 years of experience working in and around the ocean. He has worked on numerous deep-sea, search-and-salvage operations and has in-depth expertise locating and recovering downed aircraft and various other lost items for both the commercial and military industries. As the CATALYST 2 Sonar Analysis Team Lead, Andy defined the final search pattern, organizing the search grid into an efficient, probability-based plan for AUV operations. During at-sea operations, he reviewed and processed the data collected by the CATALYST AUVs after each sortie to produce refined maps and sidescan sonar mosaics to identify targets requiring a closer look, or re-acquisitions, on future sorties.

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Liz Smith, Waitt Institute Multimedia Producer

Liz Smith

Liz Smith
CATALYST 2 Media and Communications Lead
Multimedia Producer,
Waitt Institute

Liz Smith is a science filmmaker and multimedia producer, holding a Master of Fine Arts in science and natural history film making from Montana State University, and an undergraduate degree in astronomy from Whitman College. Joining the Waitt Institute  in 2008, Liz previously produced films and multimedia for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and documentary work for the National Park Service and other government and non-profit organizations. She also worked as a science reporter for the NBC affiliate in Bozeman, Montana. As the CATALYST 2 Media and Communications Lead, Liz oversaw the development, production and release of outreach materials for the expedition, including photography and hi-definition video.

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Jim "Sully" Sullivan, CAT ONE AUV Operator

Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan
CATALYST 2 AUV Operator/Technician, Leg 1
Submersible Technician/Supervisor of Submersible Electronics
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute,
Florida Atlantic University

Employed with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute since 1979, Jim Sullivan works on the electronics of the manned submersibles. His responsibilities include the video, digital imaging, communications, navigation, propulsion, battery and life support systems, as well as the interfacing of scientific sensors and instrumentation on the subs. Jim was an AUV Operator and Technician with CATALYST 2.

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Matt  Tocchini, AUV Vehicle Operator

Matt Tocchini

Matt Tocchini
CATALYST 2 AUV Operator/Technician
Independent At-Sea Contractor

Matt Tocchini works an independent contractor in various at-sea settings. He spent the last five summers working on the water in Alaska’s Prince William Sound as part of the tourist industry. He also took part in numerous scientific research expeditions on the sound during the winter months. Since Matt has always considered the Pacific Ocean his backyard, he made an ideal AUV Operator/Technician for CATALYST 2.

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