Juanita Constible spent her holidays in an unusual way – traveling to the coldest, windiest, driest, and highest place on Earth! She’s on a scientific expedition with four other scientists from Miami University (OH) and Ohio State University, studying an unusual insect’s ability to survive cold temperatures.
We were lucky enough to interview Juanita about her trip!
BPPB: Tell us a bit about yourself.
JC: I am a technical analyst—sort of like a scientific advisor—with National Wildlife Federation’s coastal Louisiana program. I was trained as a wildlife ecologist and have studied a variety of animals across Canada and the U.S. I’ve been interested in science education since I was a graduate student, and enjoy sharing my love of nature and science with people of all ages.
BPPB: What is the purpose of your trip to Antarctica?
JC: I’m going to Antarctica with four other scientists to study the southernmost free-living insect in the world. This insect is called Belgica antarctica, but we call it Belgica for short because it doesn’t have a common name. In addition to helping the scientists, I will be sharing our experiences with K-12 students and teachers.
Belgica larvae on mud.
BPPB: How did you become interested in Belgica?
JC: I used to be the lab manager for the Laboratory of Ecophysiological Cryobiology at Miami University. The scientists in this lab study how animals like frogs, turtles, and flies survive extreme cold. Belgica was the most interesting study animal to me because it lives in Antarctica. Before I worked at Miami University, I had no idea there were insects, mites, ticks, or any other invertebrates in Antarctica.
Why is Belgica special? Why is your team studying it?
JC: Belgica is a tough little fly! It can survive freezing, the loss of over 70% of its body water, wide swings in pH, immersion in salt water, and long stretches with little to no oxygen. Over the next three years, the team will do field and laboratory studies to answer these questions:
Does Belgica typically survive the winter by freezing or dehydrating?
What role do proteins (specifically aquaporins and dehydrins) play in the winter survival of Belgica?
How does Belgica “know” when it’s time to get ready for winter?
BPPB: How did you get the chance to travel to Antarctica?
JC: Mostly luck, I think! Seriously, though, having science and education experience and a heck of a lot of enthusiasm helped.
BPPB: Tell us about the preparation for your trip.
JC: The most complicated part was the physical qualification process. Everyone spending part of a field season at a U.S. base in Antarctica has to meet minimum health requirements—which means lots of tests, lots of dental work, and lots of paperwork. The health requirements are for everyone’s safety, as it can be difficult, dangerous, and very expensive to get someone out of Antarctica quickly in the case of a medical emergency.
BPPB: Can we learn more about your trip? How can we follow along with your adventures?
JC: Absolutely! We have a blog (http://frozenfly.edublogs.org), a Facebook fan page (Miami University’s Antarctic Connection), and a website (http://www.units.muohio.edu/cryolab). And I love answering questions. The best way to get in touch is through the comment section on our blog. That way, everybody gets to see the answers.
BPPB: How can teachers use this information in their classrooms?
JC: We’re going to touch on life science, physical science, history, math, and a bunch of other subjects, so there are connections to your entire curriculum. Consider using the materials as:
A daily reading warm up.
A hook for a science lesson on biological form and function, food webs, weather and climate, phase shifts of water, or another theme. Check out some of our polar lesson plans here: http://www.units.muohio.edu/cryolab/education/AntarcticLessons.htm
Inspiration for a creative writing or journaling activity. For example, you could ask students to spend a few days writing blog entries about their home town from the perspective of a tourist.
A source of videos, sound clips, or photos for art projects or public speaking assignments.
A tool to encourage students to interact responsibly and safely with adults and their peers online.
Thanks to Juanita for answering our questions! Do you know of someone we should interview on the blog? Post a comment – we’d love to hear from you!