Undergraduate and graduate students join Antarctica on research expedition, and the research team shares its experience with an 8th grade class in Fargo.
A team of North Dakota State University research scientists working on the earth's southernmost and coldest continent of Antarctica, which includes the South Pole, recently met with 140 students from Ben Franklin Middle School in Fargo via a live Skype internet video call. The faculty researchers are in the field 9,000 miles away at McMurdo Station, the U.S. National Science Foundation's base of Antarctic operations. The two groups have been collaborating on a learning project since late October, tethering real life research results to in-classroom projects with middle school teacher Barry Olson, a national Milken Educator Award recipient who teaches earth science and space science.
NDSU's research team also includes geology undergraduate students Michael Ginsbach from Hankinson, N.D., Chad Crotty of Elk River, Minn., and Alex Smith, a graduate student in environmental and conservation sciences from Apple Valley, Minn. Allan Ashworth , distinguished professor of geosciences, and Adam Lewis , assistant professor of geosciences, are the faculty members.
During calls from Antarctica, students learn about collection and analyses of scientific samples such as fossils and volcanic ash the NDSU researchers collected. In their classroom, the science students work on geologic projects, atmospheric studies and more. By teaming with NDSU researchers in the field, the students experience science beyond textbooks, exposing them to real-world research and science-based careers. The two groups will follow up with each other on project-related work next spring.
Ashworth, a veteran Antarctic researcher, told students he discovered his first fossil on the continent 15 years ago, and more recently, found fossilized ostracods that received worldwide scientific attention.
The NDSU team's field work is located in a helicopter-supported tent camp in the Dry Valleys region and Oliver Bluffs, some 300 miles from the South Pole.
Middle school teacher Barry Olson sees this partnership with NDSU geoscientists as a way to show students opportunities for a future in scientific research. "My students are looking at the weather and climate and then also looking at the volcanic ash and some of the plants and fossils the research team has been able to find in their expedition," he said.
Students also learned about the types of work people do on the continent, from scientific researchers to computer specialists, construction workers, electricians, doctors and dentists, and cooks and drivers. "I also want to show them what it's like to survive and prepare for a two-month trip out in the field," said Olson, noting that long supply routes complicate logistics when the terrain includes glacier ice, loose rocky soils and near-vertical cliff faces. "You can't just run out and pick something up at Wal-Mart if you forget it," said Olson.
At least one member of the NDSU Antarctic research team will continue his adventure upon returning from the ice. Ginsbach begins student teaching the same group of junior high students he's been communicating with from Antarctica. He'll be the new student teacher in Mr. Olson's class beginning in January 2011.