Friday, 23 September 2016 17:32

Antarctic Summer School

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This week, sixteen lucky students from Chile got to visit the INACH Science base on King George Island for a week. They were actually the winners from a nationwide competition of high school students and these were the ones whose projects had most impressed the selectors.  So they were all very bright. They came to the Escudero base with four teachers and a representative from INACH. During the week they got to interact with the various science teams on and around the base.  

 Unfortunately on the day they were with our group the weather was bad and so we had to work inside. We had been planning to take them out to see the Open Top chambers but it was far too windy for that. 

First Angelica showed them the plant and lichen samples that she and Andreas had collected and described the vegetation and its characteristics.  Then Mel got them to look at some rehydrating mosses and lichens under the microscope so they could see how these plants come to life as soon as you add water. In this harsh environment the plants need to be able to survive without water through the long winter when all the water is frozen.  So they are desiccation specialists and can dry to a crisp and survive conditions much colder than your freezer at home.  In the summer when the water melts they come to life again.

I found some of the bugs that live in the mosses, like springtails, nematodes and mites for them to look at.  Its always fun to watch these invertebrates running around trying to get away from the microscope light.

Todd then explained how the springtails are important in reproduction. Moss secrete chemicals and attract both fungi and springtails to their reproductive organs. The springtails eat the fungi and move the moss sperm from one plant to another encouraging fertilization. So its not just birds and bees that plants have recruited for sex.

We thought that might have been enough but the students were keen to keep going so they finished off using one of our instruments to measure how moss photosynthesis increases with light intensity and we had a competition to see who could guess the optimum temperature and light for moss.

Sunday was the students last day and also the Chef's day off. So the students cooked dinner for everyone on the base (more than 60 people). They did a great job.  

It was great to interact with these enthusiastic young people who were passionate about science and wonderful that they have had an opportunity to experience Antarctic Research first hand. 


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Andrew Netherwood

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