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SAN DIEGO — Surfers who paddle out with a new “Smartfin,” under development at UC San Diego this summer, can turn that day’s session into a research opportunity.

The school’s newsmagazine highlighted the innovative data-collection tool this week, explaining how it works.

Attached to a surfboard like an ordinary fin, researchers equipped the tool with temperature and location sensors that upload information to the cloud. Scientists can then analyze the data and better understand water conditions near shore, where it’s typically difficult to collect info because of turbulent, breaking waves.

Smartfin is the brainchild of Dr. Andrew Stern, a retired neurologist who made a major donation to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Jacobs School of Engineering to encourage researchers to explore the tool’s uses. Now the project is led by two professors — one currently working at UCSD and another who’s a Scripps alum — and a team of student-engineers.

The young scientists face challenges ranging from multiple disciplines, including computing concepts and mechanical engineering challenges, writes UCSD’s Ioana Patringenaru. They also have to respond to the needs of marine scientists and make sure the tool is capable of serving up the data they need.

Anshul Garde, a UC San Diego sophomore, shows off the Smartfin at La Jolla Shores. (Photo: David Baillot/UC San Diego)

The project started in 2016, and researchers have been working since then to iterate on the original device and develop algorithms that help them interpret the data. So far, hundreds of surfers are using them in testing, mostly through a partnership with the Surfrider Foundation.

The team is looking for grant funding that would lead to the next phase of producing and distributing the fins.

You can learn more about the project here.