North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun hosted a high-​​level Mass­a­chu­setts leg­isla­tive delegation—including U.S. Sen. John Kerry and U.S. Rep. John Tierney—on a tour Wednesday of the university’s Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant.

Orga­nized by state Rep. Ann-​​Margaret Fer­rante of Gloucester, the visit show­cased the university’s inno­v­a­tive, use-​​inspired research aimed at improving sonar mon­i­toring of fish pop­u­la­tions and home­land secu­rity appli­ca­tions of robotic technologies.

Kerry, Tierney and Fer­rante were joined by state Sen. Bruce Tarr, also of Gloucester, and Roger Berkowitz, pres­i­dent and CEO of Legal Sea Foods.

Pres­i­dent Aoun said researchers at the Marine Sci­ence Center and Northeastern’s other cen­ters of excel­lence strive to merge fun­da­mental and applied research to meet the greatest soci­etal needs. He added that the uni­ver­sity is focusing its research enter­prise on the themes of health, secu­rity and sustainability.

Pro­fessor and biol­o­gist Geof­frey Trussell, director of the center, touted the research facility as being uniquely posi­tioned to address crit­ical envi­ron­mental issues involving the world’s oceans.

Among these are fish pop­u­la­tions, a sub­ject of deep interest to Purnima Ratilal, asso­ciate pro­fessor of com­puter and elec­trical engi­neering. Ratilal told the leg­is­la­tors about her research using Ocean Acoustic Wave­guide Remote Sensing tech­nology to detect the move­ment of shoals of fish. The imaging tech­nology, co-​​developed byRatilal and Prof. Nicholas Makris of the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nology, iscapable of map­ping a 100-​​kilometer area of ocean in 75 sec­onds andhas tremen­dous ben­e­fits to both marine researchers and the fishing industry.

Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gist Joseph Ayers described the work of his team in devel­oping a robotic lob­ster and lam­prey capable of detecting under­water mines. He plans to fur­ther explore how these and other autonomous robots can work col­lab­o­ra­tively in groups on large-​​scale projects.

We are devel­oping robots with behav­ioral capabilities…in envi­ron­ments where the Navy has some great interest in knowing what is going on,” said Ayers, whose other projects include robotic bees that can pol­li­nate crops and a non-​​polluting mar­i­cul­ture system to cul­ti­vate food fish in the ocean.

Kerry and Tierney expressed strong interest in the research and a desire to con­tinue working with North­eastern on ways to expand their scope and secure addi­tional funding. Kerry called the sonar tech­nology “a fish finder on steroids.”