New UW-authored children’s book offers a robot’s-eye view of the deep ocean

Author Dana Manalang and illustrator Hunter Hadaway

Author Dana Manalang and illustrator Hunter Hadaway

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After years working on a cabled observatory that monitors the Pacific Northwest seafloor and water above, a University of Washington engineer decided to share the wonder of the deep sea with younger audiences.

The result is " ROPOS and the Underwater Volcano ,” published this month by Virginia-based Mascot Books.

The book combines images of the deep ocean captured during UW School of Oceanography research cruises with rhyming couplets and a cartoon robot illustrated by a UW graphic designer.

"I started formulating the idea when my children were in preschool, and I shared pictures and videos from UW oceanographic expeditions with their class,” said author Dana Manalang , an engineer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory. "I wanted to develop content appropriate for younger children, with an emphasis not only on the amazing science of the oceans, but also the innovative robots that we use for ocean research and exploration.”

Most of the photos were taken off the coast of Oregon and Washington by the book’s main character, ROPOS: a deep-sea robot that braves near-freezing temperatures and crushing pressures to attach instruments beneath as much as 2 miles of water. The Canadian robot, whose full name is the Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Sciences, captured the images while installing and maintaining the Ocean Observatories Initiative’s Regional Cabled Array , a high-tech marine observatory led by UW professors John Delaney and Deborah Kelley.

The text’s rhyming couplets blend descriptions of the robot’s travels and what it encounters with scientific facts about the deep ocean. For example:

Now here is a fact that not all may know:
Deep under the water there are volcanoes.
That’s why we’re here - to discover the fate
Of a volcano that sits between tectonic plates.

That page, of course, features a depiction of Axial Volcano , the observatory’s centerpiece.

Manalang’s day job includes helping researchers worldwide prepare instruments that will connect to the ocean observatory. She said she saw an opportunity to inspire very young audiences with the reality of modern oceanographic research.

"While the ocean is easily the most life-sustaining resource on our planet, there’s so much we don’t know about it,” Manalang said. "By making ocean exploration more accessible, I hope it can also help build diversity in the next generation of ocean scientists and engineers.”

The book’s illustrations and graphic design were done by Hunter Hadaway , creative director at the UW-based Center for Environmental Visualization. The center provides much of the graphic design for the cabled observatory, and the book is dedicated to a former member of the team.

The book is a product of Robots Discover! , a project that Manalang, a mother of two, founded to share "the thrill of robotic exploration through storytelling and engaging content.” She has also posted free activity sheets that accompany the book’s content, and she will be visiting local schools to talk about working as an engineer.

Manalang and Hadaway will be at a kickoff event 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at the University Book Store.

Hear Manalang speak about the project at a recent event in Seattle:


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