Teacher takes field trip to Antarctica

Sterling Elementary’s Allan Miller jumps at chance to head south over Christmas

Posted: Monday, November 27, 2006


  Sterling Elementary School teacher Allan Miller is headed to Antarctica for three weeks to accompany a National Science Foundation research mission. Clarion file photo

Sterling Elementary School teacher Allan Miller is headed to Antarctica for three weeks to accompany a National Science Foundation research mission.

Clarion file photo

Allan Miller is headed south for the winter — just about as far south as one can get — and he’s offered to let anyone who is interested tag along via the Internet.

Miller, a teacher at Sterling Elementary School currently serving an Albert Einstein Fellowship at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., will be assisting researchers on a trip to McMurdo Station, a research center in Antarctica.

“I can’t get much farther from home than that,” Miller said by phone last week from his NSF office.

On Dec. 10, Miller will depart Punta Arenas, Chile, on a Swedish icebreaker for a 15-day voyage.

“Our destination is the Ross Ice Shelf. We’ll bust a channel through to there and arrive on or about Christmas, and spend two to three days at McMurdo. Then they fly us back out of there through Christchurch, New Zealand, so I figure to be back in the states about Dec. 29 — we’re going to celebrate Russian (Orthodox) Christmas with my family.”

Miller said the ship will nearly circumnavigate Antarctica, crossing the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, then heading east — that direction makes for smoother sailing this time of year — around the continent. McMurdo Station is on Ross Island, due south from New Zealand. Miller said he’d be doing some presentations in Salt Lake City before heading to Chile, where he’d be issued his extreme cold-weather gear.

“Basically, it’s everything I didn’t bring to D.C. that’s sitting at home in my closet. I go out and run in shorts every morning still,” Miller said.

While on board the icebreaker, Miller will assist about 10 researchers with their projects.

“Any time NSF funds something, they want to have researchers on board, and one of the ideas they’re trying to work on is getting teachers to help researchers,” Miller said. “... A lot of (my job) is to be a warm body to assist researchers.”

Miller said there will be some Swedish researchers on board, as well as a Swedish teacher, and added there was a strong possibility of a Chilean researcher joining the team, making for a unique international experience.

Topics being studied include the sea ice around Antarctica, the continent’s wildlife, meteorological observations, including ozone hole studies, and sea water studies.

“I’ll be hands-on doing whatever I can, learning whatever I can,” Miller said.

Miller will keep a daily Web log during the trip, which can be accessed at www.polartrec.org. He’ll also be linking up with several classes around the country, including Roy Shapley’s class at Sterling Elementary.

“Anyone who wants to follow along with the journey will be able to,” Miller said.

As an Albert Einstein Fellow, Miller is one of a dozen math and science teachers selected to come to Washington, D.C. each year and serve in federal agencies. Teachers get a year of professional development, and the agencies get a chance to see how their policies are affecting students in kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms.

“It’s a pretty exciting place to be. My primary focus is how international collaboration can be used as a tool to support K-12 science classes,” Miller said.

For example, classes in two different countries could conduct an experiment or make observations and then share their results via the Internet.

NSF’s purpose is to fund scientific research in the U.S. outside of the medical field, and there is an international push under way to study changes in the polar regions. NSF has an office for polar research, but Miller’s department, which works on international collaboration, also is involved, and when they were looking for a teacher for the trip, Miller just happened to be available.

“Basically, it’s an opportunity that fell in my lap,” he said.

Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.

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