How many people are there on the ice with you? And how long is your stay being delayed?
8 February 2019 Episode #1 of "Meet The Scientist". Meet Alyssa Pike, and take a tour through our Galley.
Weather: Probably nicer than most places in the United States.
Menu from the McMurdo Galley:
We received word today that our trip here to Antarctica will be extended. We've been here this long, an extra day or two won't make much of a difference. Our weather here has delayed the off-loading and on-loading of our cargo ship. That might be our delay as they try and get the NAVCHAPS (the folks who are brought here to to load/off-load the vessel) home in a timely manner. Any weather delays, which happens every other day, could extend our stay here even longer. Let me show you around the Galley and you will see why I am not real worried about extending my stay on the ice.
Tour the Galley
Here is our first episode of "Meet The Scientist". Today, meet Alyssa Pike.
Hello PolarTREC friends and followers! My name is Alyssa Pike, I’m one of the wormherders that you’ve seen around in Kevin’s various posts. Kevin asked me to tell you a little bit about myself and how I got myself stuck at the bottom of the world with a bunch of weirdos for six weeks. Uh – I mean – how I came across this incredible opportunity! Seriously though, I’ve loved my time here and I couldn’t have asked for better people to be working with.
So this is me! I’m 22 years old, from Arizona and I’m a junior in my undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University studying Molecular Biology. When I’m not in Antarctica or buried in homework, I like to play volleyball and tennis and I’m pretty big on hiking, although I don’t get out as much as I’d like to. I’m an English minor so I love reading and writing. On the weekends I’m a part of BYU’s improv comedy group, so I spend a lot of time making stuff up and making a fool of myself with my friends. My favorite T.V. show is Star Trek (The Original Series, thank you very much. Captain Kirk forever), I’m 100% on board the Marvel bandwagon and very excited for Avengers: Endgame to come out.
I took a bit of an interesting road to get to where I am today. When I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with ants. Don’t ask me how it happened, I don’t know. I just know that if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell you that I wanted to be an entomologist (bug scientist) and study ants. When I was 12, I got a microscope for my birthday and made my own slides from plants in my back yard. Things got a little tricky when I went to junior high. I was pretty undeniably myself, science and all, but I had a few "friends" that weren’t cool with that. I decided that I’d rather be myself than have friends who didn’t like who I was, so I didn’t have many friends. As much as I hung on to who I was, it hurt to have friends dump me like that and I got scared to show people the more outlandish parts of me. Unfortunately, that included science. From the time I was 13-17, no one really knew that I liked science. Some of my closer friends might have had some idea, but I buried it so deep that even I forgot how much I loved it. Fortunately, I had a couple of great teachers that got me back on track. In 10th grade, I had a fantastic biology teacher that ignited the flame of my scientific curiosity again. Then in 11th grade, I had a chemistry teacher who had us do a biochemistry unit. I got to extract DNA from a strawberry and run some samples using molecular techniques like PCR and electrophoresis – and that was it, man. I couldn’t fight it anymore. It was scary, but I realized that science was a part of who I was, and I’d never really be me without it. So, I went from my senior year of high school with no one knowing that I liked science, to neck deep in a molecular biology degree with everyone knowing I liked science. I met Dr. Adams my first semester at BYU, and his rad way of talking about science totally knocked my socks off. I joined his research lab and after a few years of bugging him, and a year and a half off from school to serve a mission for my church, he finally let me come down to Antarctica with him. I’ve been having a fantastic time being a part of some really cool science. I never quite got tired of ants, so the plan is still to get a Ph.D. in entomology and study them. What can I say? Some things never change.
Down here on the Ice, I’ve ended up managing most of the numbers we produce as a research team. Data entry and management are not the most glamorous parts of research, but without recording the numbers of worms and other animals in the samples we process, none of the work we do down here would mean anything. The data are what live on long after we leave Antarctica behind. They’re what Dr. Adams analyzes to see if there are trends in what kinds of animals live in different soils. Trends in the numbers lead to new questions, new projects and sometimes, if we’re lucky, really cool discoveries. But they can’t do anything if they’re not properly recorded and filed on the computer. We have to know what worms were in what soils, where those soils came from and what experiment they were a part of. Most importantly, we have to make sure that the numbers are entered correctly. Quality control is a big deal down here, because if numbers get entered incorrectly it could make Dr. Adams think that something cool is going on in the soil when really someone just put a ‘10’ where a ‘1’ should be. So, we double check everything that goes into the computer and keep multiple copies of all of our data sheets. That way, we can always go back to the original if something looks off, and Dr. Adams can write cool papers without worrying that his numbers are bogus. It’s not the most epic thing to do, but it’s an important cog in the research wheel.
Kevin has done an awesome job of describing everything else that’s going on down here, so I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the astrobiology research I’m doing back home. Without getting into too much detail, I’m looking at whether these awesome Antarctic worms we’re working with could possibly survive on Mars if we gave them a bit of a head start. I’m taking a certain species of worm that survives really well in the harsh environment on this continent (Scottnema lindsayae, for those of you who’ve been paying attention) and putting them into some “soil” that’s about as close to Martian dirt as we can make on Earth, only I’m adding some nutrients that are essential for life like carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous (a lot like that F6 stoichiometry experiment) and about as much water as you’d find in these Antarctic soils. I’ll make sure they have some bacteria to eat, and then I’ll leave them alone to see how they do! I haven’t done any of these tests yet – that’s the first thing on my to-do list when I get back from the Ice, but I’m pretty excited about it.
That’s it for me, guys! If you only take one thing away from my post tonight, I hope it’s this: When you stick to who you are and follow your dreams, cool stuff happens. Cooler than you could have imagined for yourself. You can do anything that you want to do. So take some chances, get a little messy, and make some mistakes. You got this.
Questions or comments? Please email to: kdickerson [at] alpinedistrict.org
Hi there. Our soil team (the "Wormherders") have 8 of us. We are only one of the LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) teams who do work in the Dry Valleys. There are also teams studying the glaciers, streams, and lakes. There are about 1000 total folks going in and out of McMurdo. Some are scientists and the rest are the wonderful support folks who help the science going on here.