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Tales From Dark Places

Tales From Dark Places is a whole day of lectures by some of the world's most renowned scientists, cavers, divers, photographers, and explorers about their work in the dark recesses of outer space, the oceans, and the underworld. Guests will travel to the limits of human subterranean exploration with U.S. Deep Caving Team President Bill Stone. Using cutting-edge robotics, Vickie Siegal will take guests even further, through immense caverns previously immeasurable to man. Submersibles originally designed to assist in mapping underwater cave passages are now being tweaked for use in mapping Jupiter's Moon Europa.

From robot testing in the Antarctic, to a hunt for "extremophile" organisms living deep in the never-ending darkness of the black void, work done in the dark places of the world brings knowledge to light, and forges harrowing tales for field explorers to share with friends!


9:00 - Registration, Coffee & Light Breakfast
10:00 - Kevin Downey
11:00 - William Harcourt-Smith
11:45 - Luis Espinasa
12:30 - Lunch
1:30 - Steve Duncan
2:15 - Penelope Boston
3:00 - Coffee Break
3:30 - Bill Stone
4:15 - Vickie Siegal
5:00 - John Scheltens
5:45 - Closing remarks
6:00 - Post-event reception
7:00 - Club closes

Co-Chairs: Chris Nicola FR'04 & Peter Lenahan MR'17

Kevin Downey
The Amazing and Mysterious World Beneath Our Feet: A Journey Through Some of the World's Most Spectacular Caves

Kevin Downey's career as a cave photographer began about 45 years ago. He started caving in the late 1960s in the northeastern USA, which is world famous for having many of the most miserable caves. Kevin started making cave photos a priority in the early 1970s. In 1974 he started working on several long term caving projects across much of the eastern USA and got more serious about speleo-photography. In 1978, his first photos were made on expeditions abroad, which began deep obsessions with explorations projects and cave documentation. His photo archives currently include images from more than 2200 cave trips. These range from most of the significant cave regions of the USA to projects in 42 countries. Work in alpine regions, rainforests, deserts, tropical zones and underwater.

Cave projects continue to be a life priority. Teaching cave photo techniques to enthusiastic cavers has also very satisfying to him. The lists of great caves in the world continue to grow with many new finds, improved techniques and standards for documenting them. He has been honored to work in some of these great caves but for Kevin all caves are great in some way.

Will Harcourt-Smith
Beyond the Caveman: How Exciting New Cave Discoveries Are Changing the Face of Human Evolution

Will's work focuses on several key themes, including the origins of upright walking in hominines, the evolution of the genus Homo, the structure and function of the human foot, and the paleontology of extinct apes. His work involves everything from traditional paleontological techniques to the three-dimensional modeling of walking.

Will is also an active field researcher, and has searched for fossils all over the world, including in the karstic cave systems in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. He has led expeditions searching for fossil humans and apes for many years in East Africa, most notably in Kenya and Tanzania.

Harcourt-Smith is a paleontologist specializing in human evolution. He is an Associate Professor in Anthropology at Lehman College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and a Resident Research Associate in the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, where he has worked for sixteen years. He achieved his Ph.D. invertebrate Paleontology from University College London (UCL) in 2003, Masters in Paleoanthropologist from UCL in 1997, and B.Sc. in Physiology from King's College London in 1994.

Luis Espinasa
Why do Cave Fish Lose Their Eyes?

Dr. Espinasa's area of specialization is evolutionary biology using cave organisms as model systems. He is currently conducting research in two broad areas; one involves the evolution of complex characters such as blindness in the teleost fish, Astyanax mexicanus and Cottus Bairdi-cognattus, and the second concerns the phylogeography of cave-dwelling Nicoletiids (Insecta: Zygentoma) using sequence data from nuclear and mitochondrial genes.

His research has taken him to some of the remotest areas of the planet in his quest to find out how organisms in hostile environments, many devoid of Sunlight, fresh air and all but the minimal of nutrients survive and thrive, where conventional logic dictates the opposite should be the case. Some organisms as he will explain adapt by losing all pegmatation, and functionality of their optical system; giving rise to strange phenomenon of "blind cave fish".

Steve Duncan
Urban Exploration

Steve Duncan, a graduate of Columbia University, is an urban explorer and historian, as well as a photgrapher, based in New York City. He has extensively explored the New York City sewer system and other tunnels in the New York City area such as the New York City Subway System and Amtraktunnels that run through the city. Steve has also explored sewers and underground infrastructure around the world. He has explored sewers and tunnels beneath Paris, London, Milan, Rome, Naples, Stockholm, Berlin, Moscow, Montreal, Toronto, Chicagoand Los Angeles. He also hosted a television show on The Discovery Channel in 2005. The show aired for five episodes and has since occasionally been aired in syndication.

Penny Boston
Spelunking for Alien Life on Earth

Dr. Penny Boston is the Director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute (NAI), at NASAAmes, Moffett Field. She leads the scientific activities of the Institute’s member teams and all operational aspects of the organization. Her appointment was effective May 31, 2016.

Penny leads the NAI in fulfilling its mission to perform, support, and catalyze collaborative interdisciplinary astrobiology research; train the next generation of astrobiologists; provide scientific and technical leadership for astrobiology space mission investigations; and develop new information technology approaches for collaborations among widely distributed investigators.

Prior to joining NASA, Penny, in 2002, founded and directed the Cave and Karst Studies Program at New Mexico Tech, Socorro, New Mexico, where she also served as a professor and led their Earth and environmental sciences department as chair. She also served from 2002 to 2016 as associate director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, a congressionally mandated institute in Carlsbad, New Mexico. She holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Bill Stone
At the Limits of Human Subterranean Exploration

Dr. Stone is the president of the United States Deep Caving Team. During the past 50 years he has led or participated in more than 75 international expeditions, spending nearly 9 years in the field. He has logged 665 days working from subterranean camps in deep caves, most below a depth of 1,000 meters below the surface.

Dr. Stone has founded 6 startup companies, holds 20 patents and 6 patents-pending, and serves on the board of directors for 4 corporations. He led the design, development, and manufacture of numerous scientific and exploratory inventions, including the first non-military rebreathers, and is widely credited with initiating the technical diving revolution in the late 1980s.

Dr. Stone lectures regularly on the subject of robotics and manned exploration and has delivered more than 150 public presentations (including a 2007 TED lecture: “Inside the World’s Deepest Caves”); been the subject of more than a dozen national and international documentary film projects; and been the subject of scores of published interviews and profiles (including The Economist, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, BBC, Discovery, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, GEO, Wired, Outside, The Explorers Journal, Time, and Newsweek). He is the primary author of the book “Beyond the Deep.”

Vickie Siegel
Through Caverns Measureless to Man...with Robots!

Vickie is an expedition cave explorer, field operations specialist, and autonomous systems designer. She has worked with exploration-oriented robotics for over twelve years, with special emphasis towards autonomous underwater vehicles that can operate in caves and under ice.

Ms. Siegel has spent 5 seasons in Antarctica and two seasons in Greenland working as a robotics researcher, a field coordinator, and camp manager. She has been an avid expedition caver since 2004 and has led and participated in numerous multi-month caving expeditions, exploring and mapping some of the deepest and most scientifically interesting caves in the world, primarily in southern Mexico.

In between these various field-based pursuits, Vickie’s “day job” is with Stone Aerospace. There she is part of a team that dreams up, designs, builds, and tests prototype robotic systems for the exploration of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. These robots include, among other things, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) such as DEPTH-X, the first robot to autonomously explore and map a water-filled sinkhole as well as ENDURANCE and ARTEMIS, which explored beneath ice covered lakes and seas in Antarctica, and now, Sunfish® which is making a name for itself as a cave explorer. Vickie is particularly interested in how AUVs can supplement and surpass human exploration in caves, glaciers, and other extreme environments.

John P Scheltens
The Life and Times of Former Explorers Club President Russ Gurnee and his wife Jeanne, Former President of the National Speleological Society

John P. Scheltens is the former President of the NSS, 1988-92. He is the current Secretary of the National Speleological Foundation, and was formerly leader of Wind Cave Expeditions, 1969-2008. He was the leader of the first NSS Expedition to the USSR in 1989, and he was a Member of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council under Presidents Clinton and Bush.

Date: Saturday, December 1

Time: 9:00 - 6:00

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, NY, NY, 10021

Reservation Notes:

Click here to purchase tickets online

Tickets are $75 for both Members & Guests. Reservations are allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis. To secure a reservation, you may also call us at 212.628.8383 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Photos Courtesy of U.S. Deep Caving Team / Kasia Biernacka

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste