Project EXTREMES (EXcellence in Teaching and Research for Elementary and Middle School Engagement in Science) is an NSF GK-12 sponsored collaboration between the University of Colorado (CU) and the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD). It partners graduate students in the sciences with K-12 teachers to enhance the communication of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines through a focus on the ecology of extreme environments.
As an extension of our ongoing work in classrooms, three Project EXTREMES graduate students and one teacher will travel to Antarctica during Dec-Jan 2009/10 as part of a long-term ecological research team. There we will work with an international team of scientists focused on understanding the ecology of one of the most extreme environments on earth, the McMurdo Dry Valleys.
The McMurdo Dry Valleys are an ice-free polar desert and represent one of the coldest and driest places on earth. Few life forms are able to survive these conditions, and the simplicity of the ecosystem provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore diverse research questions fundamental to ecology.
We hope to engage K-12 students and teachers in this exciting research opportunity through this blog as well as the development of K-12 curriculum that will focus on the cutting-edge research taking place in Antarctica. We will update this site frequently during our stay in Antarctica, so check back often to hear about our ongoing research and adventures!
Susan Whitehead: I am a graduate student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, and a GK-12 Fellow with 5th grade at Birch Elementary. I study biology because I am fascinated by all things living! While in Antarctica, I plan to conduct research that will help us understand how organisms survive at the very limit of conditions where life is possible. In the dry soils of McMurdo, the only living animals are microscopic soil invertebrates who use a survival strategy called anhydrobiosis. During anhydrobiosis, these organisms shut down their metabolism and lose 99% of their body water, making them much more resistant to the extremes of Antarctic weather! I will research how environmental conditions affect the use of anhydrobiosis by tardigrades.
Loren Sackett: I am a GK-12 teaching fellow with 7th grade at Louisville Middle School, and a graduate student in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado. I love biology because it enables me to seek the best ways to preserve the natural world, and to enjoy the plants and animals around us. In Antarctica, I will examine the way co-dependent species interact under severe environmental stress. Specifically, I want to know whether symbiotic bacteria of nematodes (a microscopic invertebrate animal) can survive the process of nematode anhydrobiosis.
Kallin Tea: I am one of the GK-12 graduate student fellows. This year I have the pleasure of working with Kimberly Greene, Dan Tomlin, and Andrew Feeney at Manhattan Middle School. One of the main reasons why I enjoy scientific research is because we are always exploring something new. In Antarctica, I will be studying how carbon cycling is influenced by long-term carbon amendment and the role that nematodes play in this nutrient cycling.
I am an eighth-grade Earth Science teacher at Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado. I have a bachelors degree in Environmental Studies and a masters degree in Education Leadership. Before I became a teacher I worked as an environmental scientist in the Hawaiian Islands and as a park ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park.
I am a lifelong learner and have always had a curiosity and love for studying and preserving the natural world. I am fascinated with the ecology and earth science research being conducted in Antarctica and am anxious to share my experiences here with the students, teachers, and families in Boulder Valley. I am excited about all the new things we will learn during our research in the very unique and extreme environment of the McMurdo Dry Valleys!
- All ready to step on to The Ice at McMurdo Station! Ian Schwartz modeling the extreme cold weather gear issued to us for our time in Antarctica.