Chief Science Correspondent
In exactly three weeks, I'll be on a ship traveling from Punta Arenas, Chile to the most remote continent on the planet.
Today is also significant in that it marks the one-year anniversary of my official decision to embark on this incredible opportunity as an Ohio University Ph.D. student. Our team, made up of scientists from around the world, will be studying the interplay between temperature and physiology in different Antarctic fish species. Specifically, my work focuses on how cell membrane properties are impacted by changes in temperature.
I've spent the last few months preparing for this field season by practicing and modifying the different techniques I'll be performing in the Antarctic. I've modified an existing mammalian protocol for isolating synaptosomes from the brain tissue of a local fish species. Right now, I'm learning how to measure the fluidities of these synaptosomes using a technique called fluorescence spectroscopy.
Actually, not very much.
The United States Antarctic program will issue me a fairly extensive set of extreme weather gear (and even an extra duffel to put them in), so I won't have to worry about whether my own winter jacket can withstand the cold. Here are some of the items I'll be receiving (photos from the USAP website):
I'll be bringing one large suitcase (less than 50 lb). and a backpack. Technically, I believe I'm allowed to bring a bit more, but after reading some conflicting guidelines online I decided traveling light was my best option. I started by making up a massive list of everything I thought I could reasonably need. Then, I cut the list in half.
The result: lots and lots of multi-purposing. If a clothing item won't be comfortable/practical for the lab, the gym and the field, it was often rejected. I put many of my favorite pieces of clothing back because I realized they just weren't practical enough. I set aside my gym sneakers in favor of my water shoes, which are lighter and easier to pack. Leggings made more sense than jeans because they're so much more compact, and they can be layered for warmth when needed.
Here's a basic rundown of what I'll be bringing. I'll also probably wear a light jacket and combat boots on the plane. These are all the "boring" items, but I included them here because packing for this trip has made me realize how few things I really need.
-Cami tank tops (3)
-Long-sleeved shirts (4)
-A scarf, hat, and pair of gloves
-A cotton bathrobe
-A water bottle
-Toiletries supply/ personal items
All in all, these items fit in my suitcase with some generous room to spare. I haven't weighed my suitcase yet, but I'm crossing my fingers that it's well under the 50 lb limit.
Next, I added additional, possibly more interesting, selections to my luggage list. Some of these items are pretty basic, while others are a bit more quirky. But I chose these items because I believe they are all, in some way, important to my experience in the Antarctic.
1. My laptop
The bandwidth is apparently fairly limited and obviously maintenance and safety have priority over personal internet use.
In a blog post, University of Alabama at Birmington biologist Maggie Amsler wrote, "Palmer does indeed have internet, even 24/7, but all 35 (24 male, 11 female) of us share basically one household-worth connection. Hence, pleas from Palmerites to family to not send gigabyte images of cute cat antics!"
2. My camera
However, a few weeks ago I decided to invest in this camera, a Nikon Coolpix L830. It was very affordable, and it's designed for people who don't have a lot of photography experience but want to take higher quality photos. So far, I'm very happy with it.
It has a pretty good zoom, which will come in handy if I happen to see penguins near the station!
3. My passport
The 1959 Antarctic treaty, currently held by fifty nations - including the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Chile - was established to designate use of the Southern Hemisphere for "peaceful purposes only...[and to establish] freedom of scientific investigation."
I was compelled by a statement made by one Antarctic worker, Keri Nelson, on the implications the treaty's impact.
"We have nations getting together better in Antarctica than they're doing anywhere else in the world...That's happening right now on this continent," Nelson said in an interview in film, Antarctica: A Year on Ice. "And it's special."
4. My lab notebook
I'm also bringing a regular spiral for more personal journaling. I kept a journal when I studied abroad in Scotland, I was so happy that I did. It's easy to forget little details even just a year or so later, and I want to remember as much as I can from this experience.
5. My Kindle
The only problem: books are heavy. I'd need a separate bag just for the books I want to take. My Kindle fits in the front pocket of my purse.
As far as entertainment at Palmer goes, one of the buildings has a lounge/bar area with a large projection screen for movies. I've also been told the station has a pretty extensive DVD collection, and that I'll be able to find pretty much any movie related to Antarctica there.
5. A credit/debit card
My room and meals are already paid for, so I won't need to make a lot of purchases. However, the station does have a store that sells snack food, beverages, toiletries and souvenirs. The store uses a card-only system, although some of the other US-operated stations have cash-only systems.
7. Socks! Lots of socks!
Also, I'm bringing these awesome slippers my mom gave me for Christmas. They're soft and warm, but thin enough that they can be folded and don't take up much room. They're a very worthwhile luxury item.
8. A Pikachu Pillow
Between flights and layovers, I'll have about 24 hours of travel time from Columbus, OH to Punta Arenas. I hope to spend at least some of that time sleeping. Also, I'll have a pillow at the station, but I really, really like sleeping with two pillows.
I realized that my Pikachu pillow actually fits into my backpack much more easily than any of my other pillows.
This stuffed animal also has sentimental value to me. It's actually a long-term loan from my boyfriend. Once I got his blessing to bring Pikachu with me, I started envisioning all of the "adventures" he could have - sort of like a Flat Stanley doll. I can see the photos now: Pikachu climbing a glacier, Pikachu on a fishing boat, Pikachu playing with the penguins... Okay, I probably won't get that adventurous with it, but it could still be fun.
9. A swimsuit
My professor mentioned that she saw someone run from the water to the hot tub barefoot, and that he ended up getting frostbite. Ouch! Hence, the water shoes.
10. Queen Elsa's coronation dress
The area around Palmer is so beautiful that it looks like it could have come from a Disney movie. I just really want a photo of myself, dressed vaguely like a Disney queen, in front of the ice shelf, looking like I'm about to create a giant palace with nothing but sheer willpower and a killer singing voice. Is that too much to ask for? I don't think so.
After I planned this outfit, I learned that a lot of people dress up in costumes at Palmer. So I'm sure I'll be in good company!
I'm sure I'll think of additional items before I leave, but this is my list for now: a mix of practical things and some sentimental items that will hopefully keep me from being too homesick.
What items would you pack for a three-month adventure? What would you leave behind? Share your ideas in the comments below or tweet us @cennamology.