Project Extremes Antarctica

Scientists and teachers team up to conduct research in the most extreme environment on earth

About this blog and its authors


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.

From left to right: Susan Whitehead (GK-12 Fellow), Suzanne Peters (5th grade teacher), Jenifer McCormick (5th grade teacher), Kathi Freeman (5th grade teacher)

From left to right: Susan Whitehead (GK-12 Fellow), Suzanne Peters (5th grade teacher), Jenifer McCormick (5th grade teacher), Kathi Freeman (5th grade teacher)

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.

team LMS (640x480)

Left to right: Sandra O’Donovan and Alice Dale-Thomason, science teachers at Louisville Middle School, and Loren Sackett, GK-12 fellow, getting excited about geology

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.

Team manhattan

Left to right: Kallin Tea (GK-12 fellow) and Kimberly Greene (ManhattanMiddle School science teacher)

Ian Schwartz:

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.
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.

39 thoughts on “About this blog and its authors

  1. you guys are so lucky to go to Antarctica. when i grow up i would love to go there and lean about the organsims there.

    • Hi Mattie-

      I’m sure you will make it there one day if you really want to! It just takes a little hard work and determination, which I know you have!


  2. how cold is it there?

  3. have you seen a panguin yet

  4. Dear Susan whitehead,
    i was wondering… so you know how you guys are going to Antartica well i remember when you where telling us kids at Birch Elementary that you scientist dont know how the nematodes dont go into anhydobiosis out in antartica well at night do think that the snow melts in the groud giving the microscopic animals some kind of hydrating stimulous to them during the night just so they live just a little long with out drying out?
    your curious question friend,

    • Hi Annabelle,

      Good question about the nematodes! Remember that the nematodes are mostly found in the dry soils that are not covered in ice, so most of the time there is no water there at all. The nematodes use anhydrobiosis to survive very long periods without any hydration.

      Keep up the curiosity,

  5. IS there an adress i can send to because i was going to send you a gift basket fo r christmas but since your in antartica i guesse you cant any present. Well at least its cold so that you can have some kind of feeling of home you know? anyways i was wonder if you could send me some pics of antartica

    • Hi Johnny!

      There is an address where mail can be sent to Antarctica, but it takes a very long time to get there! Also there are a lot of restrictions about what can be sent and all packages have to be inspected. Since we are there for a relatively short time and it is a little complicated to send mail, we think it would be easiest to just communicate over email and this blog. Thanks so much for thinking of us though!!

  6. Hi Mrs. Whitehead! Is it super cold in Antarctica? What have you learned about nematodes yet?

    Emily Stephens

  7. Mrs. Whitehead, how is Antarctica?

    Emily Stephens

  8. Hi! Do you like it in Antarctica?

    Emily Stephens

  9. Dear Mrs. Whitehead,
    How’s it going in Antarctica? If you have been monitoring the weather there, what has been the coldest temperature there so far?

    • Amy, Hi! How are you?

    • I am doing fine. I am enjoying school and can’t get you off of my mind. Have you expeirenced any scary or just amazing encounters yet?

      • Hi Amy! Now that you mention it, we did experience a scary encounter yesterday. We were walking down a trail and all of a sudden a skua started squawking at us from a nearby rocky area. We realized it had a nest there and it probably didn’t like that we were so close, so we started to walk away, but then the skua started dive bombing us and trying to attack our heads! I put the hood of my jacket over my head and just moved away from the area as quickly as possible. Skuas are really big birds, and I’m sure they could hurt us if they really wanted to, so it was kind of scary!! Animals will go a long way to protect their young.

        See you soon!


      • What is a skua?

  10. hi mrs.whitehead hows it gonig out there? i was wondering if you found anything about nemotoads?
    (sorry if i spelled it wrong) i am also wondering how many people you are with?

    • Hi Amber! I am traveling with two other graduate students and an 8th grade teacher from Casey Middle School, but we are working as part of a larger team of 20+ people. And there are around 1400 people at McMurdo Station right now, so there is plenty of company!

  11. HI Susan, Kallin, Loren, and Ian,
    Greetings from Boulder. It was 60 degrees today!
    I was wondering what kinds of food you are eating – what is a typical dinner? I am assuming not a lot of fresh veggies!
    It is so cool to read this blog and think of you all on this great adventure!

    Jessica Feld
    Project Coordinator

    • Hi Jess!!! Good to hear from you! So far we have actually been really impressed with the food! There is lots of fresh stuff from the greenhouse that is located on site at McMurdo. This morning I had some deliciously sweet strawberries with my breakfast!

  12. hi mrs. susan!

  13. is mr.(Ian)Shwartz on this blog? if so, this is his student matt. where are you guys? still at mcmurdo station?

    • Hey Matt,

      Yeah, you got the right place, buddy. I am going to upload some pictures today. It is awesome down here – pretty cold but not as cold as I thought – it’s 26 degrees F out there today. We are at McMurdo until about December 30th. Yesterday and today are being spent on some trainings and getting checked in to our rooms. The food is excellent and everyone is really nice. We are hoping to go hiking later today – no limit in terms of daylight – I was up at about midnight last night and it was as light as it is in the middle of the day! Great to hear from you – please encourage other kids to get in touch! -Schwartz

  14. Hi, Mrs. Whitehead! How is it in Antarctica? What have you found about nematodes?

    • Hi Emily! We are still involved in traning at McMurdo Station, so we haven’t gotten to the field yet to collect nematodes! We’ll keep you posted though!

  15. Hi Susan!
    We’re watching and waiting! Can’t wait til you get there!

    • Hi Deb! Thanks for all your good wishes. It’s so nice to hear from you. Wish we could bring a group of kids down here on a Wilderness Camp!! Happy holidays!

  16. Dear Ms. Whitehead,

    I am wondering whether you can bring a soil sample back with you for show and tell.

    Kind regards,

    Curious Carey

    • Hi sis! We will be collecting lots of soil samples, but they will all be housed in quarantine at Colorado State University when we get back. There are A LOT of rules about importing samples into the U.S.. Maybe we can take a field trip to see them at the lab!

  17. Hi ms. Whitehead I was wondering how do the tardigrades or mnematodes live without water for more than 30 years?

    • Hi Kaylyn! Great question! Tardigrades and nematodes both survive without water by using a survival strategy called anhydrobiosis. Anhydrobiosis is sort of like hibernation–the nematodes completely shut down all of the processes that normally go on inside their bodies. This way they don’t need water to survive. Cool, huh?

  18. Dear Ms. Whitehead,

    Hi! We are back at school now from break. We are missing you during science time. We just started Mixtures and Solutions. How is the food? What are you eating? Have you seen any orcas or other wildlife? How about the nematodes? We were also wondering if you’ve heard any penguins. What kind of sound do they make? We hope you are having a great time and making lots of interesting discoveries. Thank you for teaching us science. See you soon!

    Mrs. McCormick’s Class

    • Hi Mrs. McCormick and students!!! So good to hear from you. I have to say that the food we are eating is really good considering how far we are away from where any of it is grown. At McMurdo Station right now there are around 1200 people, so we all eat in a big dining hall. There are always lots of options…chicken, fish, pasta, vegetables, rice, salad, fresh bread, pies, you name it, they’ve pretty much got it!! At breakfast there is always an omelet station and a waffle station, at lunch there is always a big sandwich station in addition to the hot food. So we are pretty much spoiled! Also our favorite treat is the “frosty boy”, which is a machine that dispenses unlimited quantities of soft serve ice cream! We have to be careful not to overeat.

      We have finally seen some penguins (Adelie and Emperor penguins) in the last couple of days, also yesterday we say orcas! We have been so fortunate. We will be posting some more pictures soon of all these amazing animals. The penguins make a lot of noise when they are in large groups. We visited a large colony of about 1200 pairs of Adelie penguins and they were super loud! They make all kinds of chirping and squawking noises, depending on the type of interaction they are having. I’ll took some video I can try to post or show you when I get back so that you can hear it for yourself. The sounds are unforgettable.

      Looking forward to sharing with you all when I get back! In the mean time I hope you enjoy mixtures and solutions! I love chemistry!!

  19. hi mrs.whitehead how is it in antartica. my family is in flordia. we just got home from the beach. my sister and i found lots of cool seashells. i hope you have fun!

    • Hi Amber!! Good to hear from you! I have to admit the beach sounds pretty nice right now. A lot warmer than my winter break for sure!! Look forward to seeing you soon- we are back at the end of January.


  20. Hello there! First of all, I’m not a spammer of any kind, I’m just a flag collector and I wanted to ask you, if you could possibly just click on this link: , so that I can have the flag of Antarctica in my collection. Thank you, and good luck with your research 🙂

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