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River runs through mountain valley.
Photo Credit: Luke Maillefer
U.S. students visited Torres del Paine National Park in February 2014 as part of an exchange program between the national Antarctic programs of Chile and the United States.

Exchange program

U.S. students travel to Chile to learn about science in Antarctica

The Joint Antarctic School Expedition (JASE) External Non-U.S. government site, a pilot collaboration of the national Antarctic programs of Chile and the United States, brought high school students and teachers to Punta Arenas, Chile, in February 2014.

This pilot program aimed to provide participants with hands-on experience with Antarctic environments and ecosystems research. For 10 years, the Instituto Antártico Chileno (INACH) External Non-U.S. government site has sponsored a program for secondary school students aimed at promoting awareness and appreciation of Antarctica in young Chileans. They hold a national competition in which small student groups perform experimental or bibliographic research, and the winning teams are awarded an expedition to the Chilean research station on King George Island, Antarctica.

In 2013, INACH invited the United States to participate in the Antarctic School Expedition. The National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs External U.S. government site accepted the invitation to participate because of the successful Joint Science Education Project (JSEP) External Non-U.S. government site in Greenland.

Group of children and an adult.
Photo Credit: Lynn Reed
Anna Caldwell-Overdier, Claire Hacker, Juan Botella, and Luke Maillefer, from left, proudly wearing USAP jackets on the beach in Punta Arenas, Chile. The Monona Grove High School students and their teacher participated in the pilot Joint Antarctic School Expedition.

Working through the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS) External Non-U.S. government site, Juan Botella, a teacher from Monona Grove High School External Non-U.S. government site in Wisconsin, was the first participant selected. Botella teaches science, is an alumnus of the National Science Foundation-funded Polar Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating (PolarTREC) External Non-U.S. government site program with Antarctic experience, who speaks English and Spanish fluently. [See NSF press release External U.S. government site.]

Next, three students from his school were chosen to participate from a pool of competitive applicants: Anna Caldwell-Overdier, Claire Hacker, and Luke Maillefer. Both Caldwell-Overdier and Maillefer are 11th graders; Hacker is a senior and will be attending Cornell University in the fall.

In addition, as the Einstein Educator Fellow External U.S. government site for the Division of Polar Programs, I accompanied the U.S. group. I have experience with international student science education projects through my work as co-lead of the JSEP program in both 2012 and 2013 (and will return to Greenland again this summer for JSEP 2014).

The U.S. team joined 11 students and five teachers from Chile on Feb. 16 in Punta Arenas, an Antarctic gateway city and location of INACH headquarters. The five winning Chilean teams gave presentations about their own research, as well as about their schools and regions of Chile. The U.S. team gave a presentation on the IceCube Neutrino Observatory External Non-U.S. government site at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station External U.S. government site, a natural choice since Caldwell-Overdier is a student intern with the project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison External Non-U.S. government site. Both countries’ students practiced communicating in both English and Spanish.

“One of the most memorable experiences from my time in Punta Arenas is the afternoon we spent at the INACH laboratory,” Hacker says. “Our visit began with a short tour and then we proceeded to try out some lab techniques ourselves.”

The students divided into groups to learn about different ways to detect specific proteins. They focused on proteins called cryoproteins, which are responsible for keeping some Antarctic plants from freezing.

Students sit in a circle on the floor.
Photo Credit: Lynn Reed
U.S. students Claire Hacker and Anna Caldwell-Overdier demonstrate cosmic-ray detector equipment to a couple of the Chilean students.

“Because I knew very little about this subject, and because I was learning about the new procedures in Spanish, my experience in the lab was exciting yet challenging in a lot of ways,” Hacker says. “I hope some of the knowledge I gained finds its way into my future career, because I will never forget learning about microbiology in a laboratory in Chile.”

After the initial seminars and presentations, the program was to move to King George Island, with JASE participants staying at INACH’s Escudero station and visiting other countries’ stations. The students were to be given the opportunity to work with Antarctic scientists in the field and learn about subjects ranging from glaciology to ecology.

Unfortunately, the Antarctic deployment was not completed as planned due to an outbreak on the second day in Punta Arenas of a gastrointestinal illness that affected about a third of the group. To prevent carrying the “bug” to the Antarctic stations, INACH made the difficult decision to cancel the trip. Although disappointed, all the teachers and students understood and supported the decision.

“We were all looking forward to doing research in Antarctica. I wanted to learn more about the research that Dr. Mauricio Rondanelli from Universidad de Concepción is conducting using pollen,” Botella says.

“We were to learn about the techniques used for identifying pollen that arrives from South America to King George Island,” he explains. “This study might become even more important as climate change modifies the environmental conditions of the islands to the point that new plant species are able to establish there.”

Botella says he was also eager to collect the vascular plants that grow on King George Island to study the cyroproteins that protect them from the cold.

Penguin
Photo Credit: Luke Maillefer
A Magellanic penguin on Isla Magdalena.

“Nevertheless, I came out from this experience inspired to help my students engage in fairly complex scientific projects after seeing how Chilean teachers with fewer resources are able to guide their students,” he says. “I was very impressed by the complexity of the Chilean student projects and their willingness to share their work.”

While the students were unable to go to Antarctica, INACH helped arrange alternate natural-science experiences for the U.S. group, including a trip to Torres del Paine National Park External Non-U.S. government site, one of Chile’s ecological gems in the Patagonia region.

“The centerpiece of the park is three massive granite towers jutting up from the ground at impossible angles,” Maillefer recalls. “It was amazing to learn how millions of years ago sedimentary layers of the earth accumulated and solidified and after years and years of glacial erosion only the resilient granite peaks remained.”

On another day, the students took a two-hour boat ride to Isla Magdalena, which is home to about 60,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins.

“To see penguins burrowing, swimming, and waddling, not in a zoo, but in their natural habitat, was amazing,” Maillefer says.

The Chilean students will go to Escudero Station later in the year, perhaps during the winter holidays.

After leaving Punta Arenas, the U.S. team traveled to Santiago for a couple of presentations, including to an eighth-grade class and at the U.S. embassy. The JASE team kept an online journal (in both English and Spanish) where they related their experiences and shared photographs.

The journals and the webinar that the team held on Feb. 25 may be found on the PolarTREC website at www.polartrec.com/expeditions/joint-antarctic-school-expedition-2014 External Non-U.S. government site. Teacher Juan Botella and students Anna Caldwell-Overdier, Claire Hacker and Luke Maillefer contributed to this story.

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Curator: Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Winifred Reuning, Division of Polar Programs