June 2021 OES Beacon OES Beacon

Who’s who in the IEEE OES (June 2021)

Diane DiMassa

Who’s Who? I have no idea. So I did what everyone does, I “googled” it. The Miriam dictionary website tells me – a compilation of brief biographical sketches of prominent persons in a particular field. Well, that definition is a bit of a problem for me. I’m not sure I qualify as “prominent” and the “in a particular field” certainly does not apply. Who’s Who? Um, no.

Who am I? What will you do in the name of science? Well now, those I should be able to answer.  I am a self-professed generalist who thinks everything in STEM is interesting.  Yeah, that’s why the “in a particular field” part above just doesn’t fit.

My Ph.D. from the Joint Program between MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution says Oceanographic Engineering, and that is of course the birth of my career. I spent the majority of graduate school (even before joining the Joint Program) developing navigation systems for AUVs. The field of autonomous vehicles was relatively new, and it was exciting to be on what seemed like the most amazing cutting edge.  The most enjoyable part of it all was the field testing on the Charles River in Boston.  Day after day we packed up all the gear, went out on the water, and “made science happen.”  Like any endeavor the days were mixed with glorious successes as well as dramatic failures, and I am happy to say that despite all the things that went wrong, not one of us ever fell into the river.

Currently, I am a tenured Full Professor in the Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) – a primarily undergraduate university with a focus on teaching much more than research.  When I started as the first woman on the Engineering Faculty, I would have never guessed that I would have been asked to teach so many different courses.  Changing subject areas so often has certainly kept me on my toes, but I am a self-professed generalist, so I just rolled along with it.  Regardless, the two biggest highlights of my teaching career are 1.) creating the first Engineering Design class at MMA and 2.) writing the curriculum for and establishing an ABET-accredited degree in Energy Systems Engineering.

Collecting a small meteorite in Antarctica. No touching!! Photo credit Cady Coleman

You know what else in STEM is interesting? Rocks from space. Somehow, I was in the right place at the right time and was selected to participate in two Antarctic scientific expeditions with the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program.  Essentially my job was to live in a tent (about 300 miles from the South Pole), drive around on a snowmobile, and pick up rocks – rocks from space. We found hundreds.  Most meteorites come from the asteroid belt, but our team was lucky enough to discover a few lunar samples.  My Antarctic Service Medal and certificate hang proudly on my wall.

Collecting a small meteorite in Antarctica. No touching!! Photo credit Cady Coleman

I have also been lucky enough to participate in projects that use HF radar to measure ocean surface currents, in projects that use acoustics to measure detritus, and in projects that analyze the potential for using vertical-axis wind turbines to generate power for long-term sensing stations.  I was also a blue-water scuba diver for a biological research cruise in Antarctica that collected samples of gelantinous organisms (salps and ctenophores).

For a good laugh, check out this website and view the Dress the Diver slideshow


There sure is a lot of interesting STEM in this world.

Despite all of these varied STEM experiences, OES is my true professional “home.”  It’s where my main network lies and where I have spent the majority of my volunteer/service activities.  I have been involved in OES leadership for nearly 20 years. I started as an AdCom member and then spent 10 years on the ExCom – 5 as your Treasurer, 1 as the Assistant to the President, and 4 as Vice President of Conference Operations, which evolved into the Vice President for OCEANS. I received the OES Distinguished Service Award in 2014, but the far greater honor was the privilege of working with so many dedicated and talented people throughout the world. I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed being the Liaison to the OCEANS Genova conference in 2015 (yes, as an Italian, that conference was near and dear to my heart), and I promise to work just as hard as the Liaison for OCEANS Halifax 2024.

John and I at OCEANS Aberdeen 2017. Photo Credit: Stan Chamberlain

As I contemplate where the sun may set on my career, I realize that I have been drawn back to where it started – ocean robotics.  Is that what they mean by the circle of life?  But this time, instead of accurate navigation being the goal, the objective is to support aquaculture.  I am Italian; I like food; and worldwide aquaculture production has essentially doubled in the last 15 years.  Ah yes, something else in STEM that’s interesting.

In other news, I am an avid sports enthusiast having played soccer, basketball and softball at the collegiate level. I earned MIT’s Scholar-Athlete Award, which means that when one of my current students tries to use a sporting event as an excuse for not turning in an assignment, he or she simply gets “the look.”  Ha!  In fact, I met my husband playing ice hockey and my current athletic activities include curling, golf, and pickleball. I am certainly not a Who’s Who in any of them! My husband, John Danby, and I live on Cape Cod, Mass, USA. John is a former professional ice hockey player and currently co-owner of Top Shelf Hockey School, an elite youth hockey organization, and the Daily Whisker, a pet retail business in the Boston area. In my spare time (what exactly is “spare” time?) you might find me gardening, clamming, or making chocolate.