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Videographers join researchers in the field to capture what life is like in the polar regionsVeteran polar researcher Mark Castellini, who joined POLAR-PALOOZA at stops in New Mexico and California, says he hasn’t participated in outreach as exciting as the recent tour in his 30-year career.
“In the last 10 days we have been in museums, schools, OMNIMAX® theaters, on TV, on the radio, in the paper, given science lectures at universities … [been] mobbed by school kids, asked for autographs … and pressed for interviews,” he says. A professor and dean at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Castellini studies the health of marine mammal populations, and also serves as the director of the university’s Institute of Marine Science.
The POLAR-PALOOZA train will hit the road again in 2008 with more cities and dates for its national tour, dubbed “Stories from a Changing Planet.” Planned stops include Denver, Washington D.C., Chicago, Raleigh, N.C., Salt Lake City and several spots in Alaska, among others.
Haines-Stiles says POLAR-PALOOZA will go international in 2009, with a tentative schedule that includes China, South Africa, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, India, Japan and maybe Malaysia.
Castellini is already working with his institution to promote the event when it comes to Fairbanks in 2008. “We have reached more people on the story of climate change than I thought ‘regular’ scientists could ever hope to achieve,” he says.
The POLAR-PALOOZA model for outreach and education is based on a similar project Haines-Stiles and his partner, Erna Akuginow, headed in 2003, also supported by NSF and NASA, called MARSAPALOOZA. He says the idea to create a road show introducing the “rocket scientists” responsible for the Mars rover mission to the public grew out of a desire to put a human face on a highly technical operation.
“We had been impressed with how engaging and enthusiastic, and indeed passionate, these researchers were about what they did,” he recalls. “We don’t think the public realizes that these things you read about in the newspapers or see in sound bites, that there are real life, flesh and blood men and women who really sacrifice a lot of their personal time to make these kinds of cutting-edge science projects possible.
“We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to take them on the road and have them actually meet face to face with public audiences?’” adds Haines-Stiles, director of the education project Passport to Knowledge, which produces the POLAR-PALOOZA program.
Scientists also get involved by hosting POLAR-PALOOZA videographers at their research sites. Haines-Stiles says the program will create more than 30 high-definition television podcasts, which are posted on the project’s Web site.
The mini-movies follow researchers across the Arctic and Antarctic, explaining not only the science but also the day-to-day life in a field camp. For instance, two videographers joined Ralph Harvey and his meteorite hunters on the empty polar plains in their quest to find extraterrestrial rocks. Footage includes interviews, but also shows how one tackles camp cooking in Antarctica. (Hint: a shovel is involved when beef patties are frozen together.)
Haines-Stiles says there’s no magic formula for whom POLAR-PALOOZA covers, though there are some criteria: “Their research has to be inherently interesting, but they also have to be able to express it.”
Bentley, in self-deprecating fashion, assumes he’s the token IGY researcher, a generation that is slowly passing on. But there are probably few people more qualified than he is to speak of the importance of the poles.
“I believe in the whole outreach aspect of the IPY,” Bentley says. “It’s really important for as much of the public to know what’s going on in the polar regions and why it’s so important to keep on studying them.
“The more we learn about the poles, the more we see how intimately they are connected with the rest of the world,” he adds. “They matter to everybody.”
NSF-funded work in this story: Geoffrey Haines-Stiles, Passport to Knowledge.