Antarctica research co-op leaves an impression

In April, Corey Allard became the first Northeastern University undergraduate to work on co-op in Antarctica. Now back on campus, he is reflecting on his tremendous opportunity to conduct significant climate-change research in an environment unlike anywhere on Earth.

“The overall experience was definitely worth it,” said Allard, a biochemistry major now in his fourth year at Northeastern.

Allard impressed professor William Detrich’s biology class on Nov. 1 with a presentation about his experiential learning opportunity at the bottom of the world. Detrich, who has traveled to Antarctica to conduct research many times, accompanied Allard in the early months of his co-op. Click here for a video about Allard’s co-op.

Allard also impressed another guest in the class, President Joseph E. Aoun, who lauded his efforts and encouraged students in attendance to pursue similar experiential learning opportunities around the world.

“It is an incredible opportunity to go on a global co-op,” Aoun told the class. “Take advantage of it. It is really transformational.”

Allard, who was based at Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula, studied the impact of the ocean’s rising temperature on the development of embryos in different types of fish — focusing on changes in how certain genes are expressed. During his studies, he brought the fish embryos to the higher temperatures that they are expected to face 50 to 100 years from now, hoping to predict how these organisms will react.

“We know the climate in Antarctica is changing rapidly,” said Allard. “So what we want to know is how organisms that have lived there for a very long time will be able to respond to these changes.”

For example, warmer water temperatures may accelerate embryonic development, causing fish to hatch before food is readily available, he said.

Allard admitted to feeling worn down some days in the deep winter — when there were only three hours of daylight — and he described moments of frustration when the fish initially weren’t breeding, and thus couldn’t provide him with embryos. But he said these moments were far outweighed by unique lab experience he gained, as well those awestruck moments admiring the Antarctic environment.

Allard recalled hiking on glaciers, witnessing a magnificent seven-layer rainbow, and observing a colony of 20,000 Gentoo penguins.

He said the experience has made him more confident and independent, and it helped him solidify his future research goals as he looks to pursue his PhD. He already can’t wait to return to the frozen continent.

“Now I feel much more confident about the choices I want to make,” Allard said.