Antarctica: a cool lesson in Nahant

Val Perini, the outreach instructor at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center, looks at the sea of students’ hands at the Johnson Elementary School in Nahant who want to ask Kathleen Shusdock, who is Skyping from where she is stationed in Antarctica, a question. Item photo by Owen O’Rourke.

By Bridget Turcotte

NAHANT — Students at the Johnson Elementary School got a cool look at Antarctica on Monday afternoon.

Thanks to modern-day technology and a strong relationship with the Northeastern University Marine Science Center, based in Nahant, the children took a virtual trip to the southernmost continent.

Harry William Detrich, professor of biology, chemistry and marine biology at Northeastern, and Val Perini, outreach instructor at the Marine Science Center, led a conversation between the students and Kathleen Shusdock, a Northeastern co-op student working at Palmer Station, via Skype, a video calling service.

Palmer Station is a United States research station in Antarctica. It’s the only station located north of the Antarctic Circle.

Detrich has been studying how climate change and warmer waters affect fish embryos since 1981, and has been working at the station since 1983. He takes the five-day voyage to Antarctica yearly, he said.

“I hope the kids get to see that science is not just hard work but it can be exciting and fun,” he said. “It can take you to incredible places around the world. I hope to excite them about science but I also hope this will bring to them the concept of climate change and to embrace this as a challenge. To think globally and act locally.”

When asked, about half the students reported being familiar with global warming. But they took a special interest in learning about the animals Shusdock had seen, the friends she had made and how bitter the temperatures had been.

“It was really cool,” said Yasmin Hagayegi, a second-grader. “But I thought there would be polar bears there.”

Gabriele Tiota, 8, said he was excited to talk to Shusdock because studying fish is his favorite part of science class.

“I learned it’s really rare to find Orca (whales) in Antarctica,” he said.

Madison Marsh, 8, said she finds science to be exciting and “really cool” but is sticking to her dreams of becoming a gymnast.

“When I was little, the very first thing I ever wanted to be was an entomologist,” Shusdock told the children. “Fish aren’t my favorite but they are super cool. Never say no to an opportunity to do something. This might be a scary opportunity but I’m very glad I said yes.”

The event was sponsored by the Nahant Education Foundation. Perini said the relationship between the Marine Science Center and the Johnson School has strengthened over recent years in large part because of the programming the foundation funds.  

“My favorite part of the project is getting to know the students,” she said. “We get to see every single student at least three times per year.”

Bridget Turcotte can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.


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