Student, High School Teacher Trekking to Antarctica
They will leave for McMurdo Station the end of December, remaining in Antarctica for most of January. During that time, they will assist the Hopkins geologist in strenuous field research, climbing rugged cliffs to collect specimens and studying the colorful formations of an arid region known as the Dry Valleys.
William C. Philips, who teaches earth science and physical science at Dover High School, and Zachary Stadel, 19, of Portland, Ore., were selected by the National Science Foundation to accompany Bruce Marsh, a Hopkins professor of earth and planetary sciences.
Philips, who has a doctorate in education, is one of six teachers selected by NSF to work with scientists in Antarctica this year. The teachers file daily journals about their experiences, which are posted on the Internet for students to read and for other teachers to download for lessons.
The six teachers, who are accompanying scientists from various institutions, were drawn from a pool of educators involved in an NSF-funded program designed to help teachers improve their knowledge in the sciences, mathematics and technology. Lessons learned in the field are used to enhance school curricula. Through the program, Philips previously has conducted geological research in the western United States, working with scientists at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, in Edinboro, Pa.
But his intense desire to explore Antarctica goes back much further than his teaching days.
"I can remember, at the age of 11 or 12, planning an Antarctic expedition with my friend down the street," said Philips, 49, of Frederica, Del. "When I was a kid, a lot of the early explorers to Antarctica were still alive.
"They were included among childhood heroes. There was something very romantic about it, exploring wilderness, going someplace where few people have ever been before. The romantic idea of going someplace so isolated is exciting. This is about as remote as you can get and still stay on the planet."
Stadel, a physics major at Reed College, in Portland, is one of only two students chosen to make the trip. He heard about the opportunity while doing field work last summer with scientists in the Oregon desert, as part of another NSF-funded project for academically gifted teenagers.
"Two of the instructors had been to Antarctica and had done research there on fossil soils," he said. The instructors showed him slides from their work in Antarctica.
"And that really interested me," said Stadel, a 1996 graduate of Ulysses S. Grant High School, in Portland. In addition to his interests in the sciences, he also enjoys rock climbing, a skill that might come in handy in Antarctica.
Marsh, who will be making his fourth trip to the southernmost continent in the last five years, plans to take this year's expedition literally to new heights.
In the past, he and his graduate students have climbed cliffs as high as 1,500 meters -- nearly 5,000 feet -- above sea level. This time they hope to study rocks at even higher elevations, rising about 2,000 meters above sea level, to study rocks that have not previously been examined in any detail.
One of their jobs is to study the bare remnants of ancient molten rock flows, learning more about the mysterious process that formed and continues to shape the continents.
Over millions of years, molten rock surged up from deep reservoirs, forming and pushing apart the continents, ultimately making it possible for complex terrestrial animals to evolve. The fulminating magma also might have played a vital role in the beginning of life on the primeval Earth, as the most primitive organisms congregated around hydrothermal vents on ocean floors.
But, while the key to gaining more insights into this process is to analyze past magma flows, most of the solidified formations left behind are either covered with plants and rocky debris, or they have been partly eroded away. That's not the case in Antarctica, where bands of magma are frozen in time in spectacular cliffs, called sills.
The magma was deposited in Antarctica 183 million years ago, around the time a supercontinent that geologists refer to as Gondwana broke up to form South America, Africa, Antarctica and Australia. The Antarctic formations offer an unusually complete view of what happened millions of years ago, said Marsh, whose research is funded by the National Science Foundation.
Philips and Stadel will help Marsh and his graduate students carry out field experiments and transport rocks for further study. The two Johns Hopkins graduate students making the trip are Jon Philipp, from Scotia, N.Y, and Michael Zieg, from Atlanta, Ga.
Journalists may reach the high school teacher, Philips, by calling him at his home, 302-335-3689. Stadel can be reached at his college dorm, 503-774-9859, or at his parent's home, 503-282- 3990. Journalists also may contact Marsh at 410-516-7133, or Emil Venere, in the Johns Hopkins Office of News and Information, at 410-516-7160.
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