The concept of Student Drifters was established in 2003 as a research-based program by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lab in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. As originally conceived, the programs primary objectives were to engineer and deploy low-cost, hand-built, ocean drifters. These units are used to track currents via satellite telemetry. The data collected contributes to NOAAs Integrated Ocean Observing System and validates numerical models.
In recent years, the drifter program has broadened its scope and invited local schools and educators to become involved in drifter building, deployment, and tracking. The drifters have proven to be a very successful educational tool in high school science or STEM classes, after-school programs, summer science schools, and informal educational settings. Over the past 10 years, more than 1000 drifters have been built and deployed by approximately 50 different schools.