Dec. 4, 1997
Vol. 17, No. 6

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    'Live' from the South Pole!

    CARA's Education Coordinator will bring science to students via web site

    By Diana Steele
    News Office

    Some educators will jump through hoops to interest kids in science. Randy Landsberg will fly to the end of the earth.

    Landsberg, Education Coordinator for the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica, based at the University, and children's science book author Janice VanCleave will depart on Sunday, Dec. 7, for the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The duo, who will actually be at the South Pole from Dec. 14 through 20, are encouraging children in elementary, middle and high school to follow their journey and perform science experiments along the way, via the World Wide Web (www.southpole.com).

    "We're hoping that students and teachers will use this site as a springboard to learn more about the South Pole and to develop their own experiments," Landsberg said.

    Experiments and curriculum ideas currently found on the site include determining the boiling point of water and the densities of snow and ice.

    "The focus is to get kids to do an experiment, to get them to think about global differences, to understand that it really does matter where you are on the globe," he said.

    The boiling point experiment includes an opportunity for students to submit their own data and compare it with what others submit from different locations. In New York City, for example, a student could take the temperature of boiling water and find that, at sea level, it boils at 100 degrees C. But a student in Denver might measure the boiling water there and find that it is several degrees cooler, since Denver is nearly 6,000 feet above sea level.

    "We tried to keep these experiments as simple as possible, so that people could take data from wherever they are," said Landsberg. Data submitted by students to the website will be plotted on a graph, and by clicking on a data point anyone can see the name of the student and the school that submitted it.

    The South Pole is roughly 10,000 feet above sea level; in addition, there is less atmospheric pressure due to the extreme cold. "The data we take at the Pole is going to look a little weird," said Landsberg, "but we want to get students to think about what that means."

    Landsberg and VanCleave will be carrying a hand-held Global Positioning Satellite receiver -- which can determine their latitude and longitude within a few meters -- and will transmit their location via the website. They will also keep a travel log and will describe the weather and characteristics of the places they visit. For example, their first stop after a trans-Pacific flight will be Auckland, New Zealand, where, in December, the first summer flowers are blooming.

    Landsberg joined the CARA staff in April. Before coming to the University, he was the education coordinator for the Argonne National Laboratory Division of Educational Programs and a consulting exhibit developer for the Museum of Science & Industry.

    As CARA's Education Coordinator, Landsberg heads Space Explorers, an outreach program designed to teach science to under-served inner-city minority high school students. Last December, College student Jameene Banks, then a senior at Hyde Park Career Academy and a participant in Space Explorers, traveled to the South Pole to learn first hand about CARA astronomy experiments there. She shared her experience with other high school students in lecture tours.

    When they return from the Pole, Landsberg and VanCleave plan to visit schools in at least two cities to give workshops on what they've learned. VanCleave, a former teacher and author of 34 science books for children, published by John Wiley & Sons Inc., will also use the polar trip to develop a new book, tentatively titled 203 Icy Experiments, scheduled for publication in 1999.

    Students are invited to submit questions and ideas for experiments at the South Pole -- those already submitted include "Can you use a ball-point pen at the Pole?" and "What happens when you blow soap bubbles at the South Pole?" -- by sending e-mail to Landsberg and VanCleave at icy@astro.uchicago.edu or via their website.