How Has Technology Changed Exploration?

How Has Technology Changed Exploration?

Grade Level

9 -10


15 min - 1 hr


English Language Arts

For as long as explorers have been venturing into unknown territories, they have relied on the best science and technology of their day to survive the journey. Technology, the application of scientific understanding to solve a problem, is found in nearly every type of expeditionary gear, from the synthetic materials that make Arctic coats warm and waterproof to the food preservation techniques that have allowed astronauts to stay nourished in orbit.

As new technologies have emerged through scientific discovery, more advanced equipment has entered the field to overcome risks and inconveniences associated with exploration. By looking through the packing lists of famous expeditions, you can usually glimpse an era’s most advanced technology.

Past and present explorer gear
A comparison of these photos of Antarctic exploration, one taken around 1912 and the other taken in 2001, reveals some of the technological advances that have taken place during the last century. Credit, left: Terra Nova expedition at the South Pole, 1912-1913. Right: Casanovas Peak, 2001


How has new technology changed exploration?

Each of the following excerpts is from an interview with a real explorer about his or her experience in the field. Listen for their descriptions of the advanced equipment and technology that they use, and consider the following questions: What problem has their technology solved? How has their technology made it easier for them to safely explore and make discoveries?

As you listen and watch, record your observations on this nifty exploration graphic organizer.

Arctic Sea Floor Explorer Rob Reves-Sohn
SciFri Excerpt: Expedition Explores the Arctic Sea Floor
Guests: Rob Reves-Sohn, Tim Shank, and Jeffrey Seewald – July 6, 2007

Antarctic Volcanologist Kayla Iacovino
SciFri Excerpt: Exploring Science at the End of the Earth
Guests: Kayla Iacovino, Tehnuka Ilanko, and Chris Linder – December 30, 2011

Polar Explorer John Huston
SciFri Excerpt: The Race to the South Pole
Guests: John Huston and Ross MacPhee – July 23, 2010

Ocean Explorer Bob Ballard
SciFri Excerpt: Conversation With Ocean Explorer Bob Ballard
Guest: Robert Ballard – July 3, 2009

Ocean Explorer Sylvia Earle
SciFri Video: Desktop Diaries: Sylvia Earle
Guest: Sylvia Earle – June 15, 2012

What technology would you bring?

The consequences of being poorly prepared in the field can be disastrous. Many famous exploratory expeditions, such as Colonel Percy Fawcett’s last journey into the Amazon, perished without a trace. As David Grann describes in his book The Lost City of Z, even Fawcett’s successful trips into the Amazon left many of his traveling companions lost, suffering, or dead from disease, starvation, and violence. If they had been traveling with today’s technology, perhaps their fates would have been different.

If you were to plan your own expedition, where would you go, and what one piece of technology would you bring? What problems would your chosen technology solve? In your response, describe how the environment and risks associated with your chosen destination factored into your decision.


Related Links


Common Core State Standards:

Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally), evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.

Next Generation Science Standards:

Nature of Science

High School: Scientific Investigations Use a Variety of Methods

  • Scientific investigations use a variety of methods, tools, and techniques to revise and produce new knowledge.
  • Scienctific investigations use diverse methods and do not always use the same set of procedures to obtain data.
  • New technologies advance scientific knowledge.

High School: Science Is a Human Endeavor

  • Technological advances have influenced the progress of science, and science has influenced advances in technology.
  • Science and engineering are influenced by society, and society is influenced by science and engineering.

Middle School: Science Is a Human Endeavor

  • Scientists and engineers rely on human qualities such as persistence, precision, reasoning, logic, imagination and creativity.
  • Advances in technology influence the progress of science, and science has influenced advances in technology.

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Meet the Writer

About Ariel Zych

Ariel Zych is Science Friday’s director of audience. She is a former teacher and scientist who spends her free time making food, watching arthropods, and being outside.

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