Alvin Turns 50

Alvin, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s research submersible, is 50 this year. Christened on the WHOI dock on June 5, 1964, the sub has  been a workhorse for US scientists, taking almost 2,600 researchers on nearly 4,900 dives. It enabled the discovery of  lush communities of life on the seafloor thriving  without sunlight—sustained by energy from chemicals coming from beneath the seafloor — one of the most profound scientific discoveries of the 20th century. 

Alvin helped discover hundreds of previously unknown species and has inspired the development of new generations of deep-submergence vehicles.  It has enthralled generations of schoolchildren around the world, and continues to inspire new generations of scientists, engineers, and explorers, to venture into Earth’s remaining frontier and bring back new knowledge about our planet.

In 2014, Alvin received the most extensive upgrade in its history—funded largely by the National Science Foundation. It returned to service with enhanced capabilities, and with a new titanium sphere that extends its depth, allowing it eventually to reach 98 percent of the seafloor.

To mark the anniversary, WHOI is issuing a special issue of Oceanus magazine, which can be accessed on WHOI’s website at and in print later this month. WHOI has also created a new Alvin 50th anniversary website (, which, among other features, asks people to send WHOI birthday videos for Alvin. The videos will be posted on the site as well as on an Alvin 50th Facebook page.

Through the Woods Hole Science Technology Education Partnership (WHSTEP), WHOI is also working with local grade school students to draw birthday cards for Alvin, which will be displayed at WHOI’s Ocean Science Exhibit Center this summer. Other activities are being planned with local restaurants, including an Alvin signature drink, and with the Woods Hole Film Festival.


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