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26 July, 2001

Resilience and Resourcefulness

Looking around the science trench area where all the science experiments are set up, one might think one had stepped into a high school science fair. Each scientist here has created his or her own instruments and tools to do the job. From up turned flower pots and trash cans over inlet valves, to small wooden boxes housing vapor pumps, each science experiment has its own set of unique instrumentation. An odd blend here of high tech and low tech, creates an ironic atmosphere.

Even the roof of the science trench building , indoors under 20 feet of snow, has gutters made of baggies to keep the melting snow from dripping on the scientists as they work. It’s almost comical to see the inventions and devices that have been created.

As a teacher of science, I realize that young people need chances to build, invent and problem solve in order to develop this creativity and engineering ability. In order to be a field scientist, one must be able to function independently in a remote area. If an instrument breaks they have to understand it well enough to fix it. Often the challenge of operation is increased by working in the cold, wind or snow. Hands are cold, feet are cold, glasses fog over, noses run. What might be moderately difficult in a temperate climate takes even more resourcefulness in these types of conditions. The same holds true for the instruments, they must be robust enough to with stand cold, ice and wind.

In fact, just about every thing here requires resourcefulness and ingenuity. The water we use in the buildings is snow melted and used to cool the generators. The freezer is a deep pit under the snow. Rarely does anything go as planned - improvisation seems to be one of the hallmarks of this place. The carpenters are building a new berthing module ( sleeping quarters) for the staff that stays all winter. Although the house was delivered partially assembled, they have had improvise since it was delivered without all the parts. Each day I hear tales of problems overcome by creativity and a stubborn resolve to think “out of the box”.

Tonight I helped Markus set up one of his new, creative, instruments - the mouse elevator. This machine lifts his air intake lines automatically at a programmed interval. Earlier this evening he assembled it in the greenhouse. Even with this preassembly in the warmth of the lab, we spent two hours setting it up in the snow. First, we had to get the power and controls to it from the underground science trench. In order to get the power cord up to the snow surface level about ten feet above our heads, we taped the cord to a bamboo pole. ( my invention for the day) . I pushed the pole with cord from the trench under the snow up a small vertical shaft while Markus waited above. Once he saw the pole, he was able to grab it, pull it up and disconnect the power cord from the bamboo pole. Our next problem was getting the mouse elevator stand to pierce the crusty snow. After a bit of thinking, Markus found a small 4 x 4 post. He used the post and a mallet to pound the pole down beyond the crust layer. Again, an invention brought on by necessity and creativity.

Tomorrow, more about the mouse elevator...its after midnight and I have to get some sleep.

A trash can protecting an inlet valve.

The entrance to the science trench. The work area is about 20 feet under the snow down a set of steps. Scientists work in the trench area under the snow by running their intake lines to the surface through a vertical shaft. Some instruments are attatched to a tower to get them further up in the atmosphere.

Markus assembles his mouse elevator in the green house lab area.

The partially assembled berthing module. Bob, Jay, Jordan, Brian and Joe haved worked hard to overcome problems and keep this project moving foward.

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