High in the Transantarctic Mountains, the McMurdo Dry Valleys are the largest part of Antarctica not covered with ice. Instead, a seemingly endless carpet of boulders and rocks flows into networks of steep cliffs and valleys—some over a mile deep, recalling the canyons of the American Southwest, but unimaginably more vast. Almost nothing lives there. There are no people around for hundreds of miles. This is Earth’s most ancient landscape, frozen in time for millions of years.
HHMI professors are accomplished research scientists who are making science more engaging for undergraduates. By providing HHMI professors with the funds and support to implement their ideas, HHMI hopes to empower these individuals to create new models for teaching science at research universities. The newly selected group—who represent 13 universities across the country—will join the community of HHMI professors who are working together to change undergraduate science education in the United States.
This morning, four of us hopped on a helicopter at McMurdo Station, the United States Antarctic Program’s base, near the spot where Scott’s men built a hut in 1902 to wait out the long winter. Along with my fellow field assistant Keith Heyward, I was joining Marchant and his graduate student, Sean Mackay, flying 60 miles across the sea ice to the Dry Valleys, a series of valleys and ridges that lie roughly east to west and largely free of the ice that covers 98 percent of the continent.