One of the first things I did when I recently returned from Palmer Station, Antarctica was make a pilgrimage to the McWane Science Center in downtown Birmingham to catch the UAB Antarctic Experience exhibit. My early departure for Antarctica had precluded a chance to visit this exhibit, which is running from November 2001 through March 2002.
The UAB exhibit includes 45 large color prints taken by members of our current and past Antarctic expeditions, along with Norbert Wu, a world famous underwater photographer that spent one field season working closely with our group at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Norb's funding to photograph the underwater world of Antarctica was provided by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for artists and writers, and he kindly provided us with copies of many of his stunning photographs to be used for educational outreach and scientific publications. Our exhibit also features a poster describing our NSF-funded science activities, artifacts from our expeditions including a Scott tent, Zodiac boat, examples of the cold weather clothing and dive gear, specimens collected from the Antarctic sea floor, and a collection of patches representative of the many countries that participate in Antarctic science programs.
An estimated 150,000 people will visit our exhibit during its run, and many will stop to watch the video describing the accompanying Extremophile Laboratory organized and directed by the UAB Center for Outreach and Development and the UAB Department of Biology. This hands-on science laboratory provides participants an opportunity to learn about temperature adaptations in Antarctic bacteria that ensure their survival under extreme conditions. Dr. Steve Hajduk, the director of the program, tells me that 1500 students will have participated in the extremophile laboratory by the time our exhibit has run its course.
Others will pause as they browse through our exhibit to view the poster describing the UAB WOW Web site (yes, the one you are visiting right now!), an innovative interactive medium that invites students and the public to participate in UAB research expeditions. The amazing outreach of this program is brought home by the approximately 500,000 visits to the WOW Web site that have occurred since the kick off of our 2001 expedition to Antarctica.
Children across the state of Alabama have also enjoyed several recent articles in the Kid's Section of the Birmingham News (statewide circulation over 150,000) that featured Antarctic science experiments designed by Dee Hellmers, an inspirational teacher at Hall Kent School in Homewood Alabama. These articles feature simple, yet elegant experiments that teach basic principals such as dropping an ice cube (a model iceberg) into a glass of water to observe how much of the "iceberg" shows above the water line (the amount above the water = about 1/8th), and placing your hand into a plastic sandwich bag containing shortening and then plunging it into freezing water to demonstrate the insulatory properties of "blubber."
This week, Chuck Amsler will be presenting yet another outstanding Antarctic slide show to a troop of local Birmingham boy scouts. Next week I will visit Bryan Elementary School in Morris, Alabama to return a teddy bear that I took to Antarctica as part of a geography lesson for a fifth grade class. It turns out the entire school has been following Bryan's adventures in Antarctica. They have prepared a welcome home banner to be hung in front of the school, and the whole kindergarten class will come dressed as penguins to celebrate the occasion!
As illustrated by these educational outreach activities, Antarctica provides a marvelous vehicle to excite students and the general public about the allure of science. UAB scientists, with the assistance of their media relations office, have leveraged an opportunity to work in this remote and exciting environment to reach out and touch the lives of not only the general public, but also, quite literally, thousands of young students. Such partnerships between higher education, K-12 schools, and the federal government are instrumental in exciting a new generation of students about careers in the sciences and mathematics.
And by the way, be sure to come on down to the McWane Science Center on Saturday January 19 (Chuck Amsler), February 16 (Jim McClintock), and March 16 (Maggie Amsler), to catch the Scientist at the Center programs. We will be presenting slide shows about our Antarctic expeditions!