“Every day I reach a new height. It is a constant process of growth.”
Moronke Harris does not fit into any mold. She is an oceanographer who has returned to academia after working in industry on climate engineering and intergovernmental, multi-vessel research expedition planning. She’s also an artist, founding The Imaginative Scientist, a science communication brand blending traditional outreach and artistry to produce an audience-first approach that engages, invites, and inspires curiosity. Moronke contains multitudes, and so does her work.
“I am prouder of myself today than I was last year or even last month. I just keep working, moving forward, and meeting incredible individuals, and as a result beautiful things continually fall into place. To say I am excited about what the future holds is a severe understatement,” Moronke shared upon reflecting on her journey thus far.
Her scientific research focuses on the most unexplored areas of the ocean, containing the most potential for discovery. Specializing in hydrothermal vent ecosystems 1000-4000 m under the ocean's surface, she is fascinated with deep-sea exploration, blue economy, microbiology, and seafloor mapping.
“Observation of the largely unexplored ocean offers an unparalleled opportunity for revolutionary discoveries and the attainment of scientific milestones. I have been enthralled by this concept since I was young thanks to the help of multiple ocean exploration documentaries,” she shared. “ Within the ocean science community, there is an abundance of stories centring career aspirations birthed from a childhood spent by the sea. Since I grew up in a landlocked area of Ontario, Canada, the ocean did not play a large part regarding direct, regular influence on my childhood inspirations. However, these documentaries, coupled with my imagination, provided plenty of indirect influence. Additionally, as a child, my family travelled often and I would spend hours investigating any pools, rivers, lakes, and oceans I could get into. It was always a hassle to get me out of the water.”
“The older I got, the more my marine interests grew and by the time I was in my undergraduate program, I knew oceanography was a field I wanted to explore. In my final year, I wrote a literature review on the comparative potential effects of both climate change and deep-sea mining on hydrothermal vent systems, and my research interests became solidified in the blue economy, biogeochemistry, sea-floor mapping, and extreme environments. Entering graduate school was an easy choice for me because it allowed me to pursue a dream career. I saw the program as a first step in a journey toward being at the forefront of ocean exploration. A PhD allows students to contribute something new to their fields, something that has never been done before. And a PhD centering deep-sea science allows you to do this while interacting with regions of the Earth few have seen. Ultimately, I owe my determination to my parents who could not always relate to my love for ocean exploration but nurtured my passions wholeheartedly, nonetheless.”
The Jackson Wild Collective has allowed Moronke to dive deeper into the world of ocean documentaries that caught her attention at a young age.
“Connections afforded by the Collective have allowed me to collaborate with filmmakers and start dipping my toes into narration and expedition documentation. As someone with artistic tendencies, I have always had an interest in filmmaking and photography. Now I get to learn from talented individuals in these fields, and teach them a little science in return along the way.”
Moronke’s work has brought her out into deep waters with no sight of land, and into classrooms sharing the wonders of deep sea exploration and oceanography.
“The most fascinating and rewarding part of my oceanographic work is the rarity, the uniqueness of location, and the potential for discovery. Thousands of meters under the ocean’s surface exists a world that survives and thrives in the absence of sunlight. Here, scientists contribute to the discovery of our ‘final frontier’. It is akin to space exploration,” Moronke added, speaking about her science communication work. “As an avid science communicator and guest lecturer, I relive a tiny portion of this fieldwork experience each time I share my passions with an audience. There is nothing better than seeing others excited about what excites you!”
But science communication is not always easy – science can be complex, and striking the balance between detailed and accessible can be tricky.
“We scientists love complexity, but this can impede efficient communication. This is critical because effective science communication has the power to impact politics, healthcare and policy agendas, contributing to benefitting both society as a whole and the environment that surrounds us. If you can get general audiences to truly understand the science behind why global warming is damaging, instead of covering it with a blanket statement of “dangerous” – they are more likely to act with the power that they hold, which is numbers for political voting. Much of this comes down to simplifying our ideas strategically.”
And it’s not just the general public either – Moronke is working to reduce the disconnect between different scientific disciplines as well. “With The Imaginative Scientist, I am aiming to change how scientific concepts are regularly conveyed by incorporating visual art. This includes artistic pieces as well as bringing engaging, multi-sensory experiences to science-based public speaking. Making topics more palatable to those who aren’t in science, or to other scientists, who may not be in the specific field I am discussing. Because we know there is also a disconnect between scientific fields, not just outside of science entirely.”
Moronke’s advice for an aspiring ocean scientist is simple: “Try, try, and try again. It is cliché but I have truly found that when one door closes another always opens. Be prepared to take advantage of any possibility that comes your way. Go after internships and research assistantships if you have the opportunity to.”
“Additionally, do not be afraid to ask for help, or to ask others that you look up to how they got where they are. In my experience professionals are happy to advise those at earlier stages in their careers. Without that wonderful support network, I would not be where I am.”
With 30+ national and international speaking engagements and collaborations (spanning live international Q&A seminars, lectures, podcast features, text interviews, social media engagements, etc.) completed, Moronke is well-versed in enthusiastic and knowledgeable outreach. As she continues to intertwine science and art, pushing the boundaries of science communication, we can’t wait to see what comes next.