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Antarctic co-op: Reflection

This is a guest blog post by Eileen Sheehan, a bio­chemistry student at Northeastern University who is on co-op at Palmer Station, Antarctica. She is providing a series of guest blog posts about her co-op experience.

As my stay here at Palmer Station comes to an end, I’ve had more time to reflect on the success of my season in Antarctica. I’ve learned a lot about marine biology and conducting scientific research in the field, but I’ve also grown as an individual.

When I arrived at Palmer Station, I only had a basic background in ecology and the marine sciences. In professor William Detrich’s lab at the Marine Science Center, I focused on molecular biology and bioinformatics. While we studied zebrafish, I never worked directly with our Antarctic fish specimens; the closest I got to touching an icefish was extracting RNA from tissue samples.

At Palmer Station, I quickly immersed myself in the world of marine biology. I worked directly with Dr. Nathalie Le François and the other members of the team. Nathalie helped to teach me how to successfully keep a captive broodstock of our icefish, and she aided me in my understanding of how we go about fertilizing fish eggs to begin our temperature experiments. Prior to arriving at the station, I had no experience with these techniques.

By doing hands-on dissections, I got to see the process of obtaining those little tissue samples that I had been working with back at MSC in Nahant, Massachusetts. Throughout the course of our embryo temperature experiment, I developed an understanding of the science behind embryology as well as the process behind preserving the embryo samples and sending them home for further testing.

Being down here offered me unique insight into the full-picture of how science works: from beginning with the very large and then ending with the tiniest of molecules, atoms, and atomic particles. I hope to take this newfound knowledge and appreciation for science as a whole and apply it to my studies when I’m back in class for the spring semester. Perhaps seeing how everything is connected will ease me into my major’s harder courses, such as thermodynamics and molecular biology. Seeing how the big picture is connected to smaller reactions and molecules will help me in foreseeing how changes in the environment could affect those reactions and molecules.

My experience here in Antarctica will stay with me for life. I’ve made friends that I can confidently say will be in my life for years to come. I’ve learned a lot about different cultures and lifestyles in America, from the traditional life of an Inuit at Little Diomede, Alaska, to that of those living in a ghost town in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It’s truly amazing how so many unique perspectives can come together at one of the most remote places on earth. I certainly appreciate having the opportunity to be down here to learn so much more about biological sciences and about myself.

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