World's Fair


Actually, the clues are probably too obvious but how cool is this…

(Answer below the fold)

Here – this should pretty much give it away.


Yes, the answer is the Pacific Ocean, about 4km deep.

What we have here is a wonderful example of science culture, specifically from science types who study the ocean (whether it be with a earth science or life science angle). This cup which was given to me by Dave Semenuik (who also blogs over at,. Dave’s research focuses on monitoring trace metals in certain marine life, partly from an evolutionary angle, but also as a read out of ocean activity as it pertains to things like climate change.

Anyway, apparently because of the styrofoam nature of the cup (i.e. mostly air), a visit to the depths of an ocean will compress these suckers until they shrink to a size just a little bigger than my thumb (just like shrinky dinks).

Based on some of the numbers in this document, I figured this little cup had to deal with about 6000 psi (6000 pounds of pressure coming at it!)

What’s cool is that this is apparently a time honoured tradition amongst oceanographers. Dave was telling me that this practice occurs frequently, sometimes almost with ceremonial fervor, and has been going on for decades. Usually, the individual will inscribe some sort of message, often trivial (like “Help me! I’m shrinking!), but occasionally quite profound (for a loved one recently passed for example).

Surprisingly, there’s not a whole lot of references to this practice on the web (although I did note that the NYT did a short piece on them in March), especially since there should be thousands and thousands of them. Anyhow, here are a few other links [1,2,3,4,5] I could find with other examples.

I think it would be kind of cool to have a central image repository of these suckers – I bet some of the inscriptions would be pretty interesting.


  1. #1 Tobias
    September 4, 2008

    I am surprised by the mention in the linked NYT article that an egg (presumably a chicken egg) survived. It says it was because it was filled with “uncompressable fluid). But when i crack an egg, I always find a small pocket of air inside — I never thought that it was 100% full of fluid. The further description of the egg as being “salty” when it came back suggests that the void inside was filled with seawater, which must have permeated the shell. Unless they pierced the shell before hand (or presoaked the egg), it seems odd to me that the shell is permeable enough to allow the air-water exchange quickly enough to avoid rupturing during the descent. Of course, I have never been in a submersible, so I can’t speak from experience.

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