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James Cameron Receives Award for Promoting Deep-Sea Exploration

James Cameron has attended his fair share of Hollywood award ceremonies. But the Oscar-winning director is coming to San Diego for a very different kind of ceremony, one that will find him hobnobbing with scientists instead of movie stars.

— James Cameron has attended his fair share of award ceremonies. The director behind watery blockbusters like Titantic has earned three Oscars and many more nominations. But on Friday, Cameron came to La Jolla for a very different kind of ceremony, one that found him hobnobbing with scientists instead of movie stars.

Cameron is the recipient of this year's Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest, awarded by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to people who get the public excited about science.

Cameron has thrown his celebrity behind deep-sea exploration. Last year, he piloted a one-man submarine into the Mariana Trench, diving deeper than anyone has ever gone before.

"I think there's a perception that we've explored this planet, and that's just simply wrong," Cameron said, speaking with reporters before publicly accepting the 2013 Nierenberg at UC San Diego. "Nobody knew what was going to be down there, and we found all sorts of cool things. There was something very exciting about knowing that the lander's images were the first images and my eyes were the first eyes to see what was down there."

Photo credit: Mark Thiessen

James Cameron emerging from the Deepsea Challenger, the one-man submarine he piloted nearly seven miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Cameron collected footage and samples that scientists will use to identify dozens of never-before-seen species. The expedition landed Cameron on the June cover of National Geographic. But he couldn't have done it without Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers like Doug Bartlett, the marine microbiologist who served as chief scientist on Cameron's dive.

In return, Cameron is donating some of the equipment that took him nearly seven miles underwater back to Scripps so their scientists can further explore the deepest depths of the ocean.

Cameron said, "My dive got so much press, but a very large part of the true science that was brought back from the expedition was done by this vehicle."

When asked how the creatures he saw deep underwater will figure into his future films, Cameron was quick to clarify that he didn't undertake these expeditions to find material for Avatar sequels. "I think where people get messed up is they think that I was doing these dives to find inspiration for movies," he said. "That's not the case. I make the movies to pay for the dives."

Previous recipients of the Nierenberg Prize include NPR's Ira Flatow, La Jolla-based genomics entrepreneur J. Craig Venter and British naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

The prize is named after former Scripps director William Nierenberg. His son, Nico saw Friday's ceremony as the culmination of a long partnership.

"[Cameron's] work with Scripps now goes back a number of years," Nierenberg said. "I know it was a very close collaboration on this dive, where the chief scientist was actually a Scripps scientist. So it's been a long and very prosperous association."

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