Wednesday, June 2, 2010

An Ice Place to Visit

There’s a reason I write about science. Back in the day, when I worked for Scholastic News, I wrote on every subject, researching, interviewing people, drafting, and revising. Fresh out of college, I quickly learned that the people I liked talking to the most were scientists. They were passionate, enthusiastic, and genuine in their desire to tell kids about their work and to inspire them to get into science. What’s more, their lives were a dream-come-true of adventure, exotic locations, cool skills, and gorgeous animals.

I’ve learned that this science magic extends outside the circle of scientists to the people who work with scientists to tell their stories: reporters, mappers, photographers, illustrators, and yes, writers. We’re the lucky ones who get to go along -- virtually and sometimes really -- to observe, document, nose around, loom over the shoulders of, and sometimes even help scientists as they work.

Next week I fly to the Aleutian Islands, where I’ll board the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, an icebreaking ship, for the NASA-sponsored research cruise called ICESCAPE, which means Impacts of Climate Change on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment. For two weeks, I’ll be at the elbows of 48 scientists as they study what climate change is doing to the Arctic. My experiences will ultimately end up in a number of locations, including NASA webpages, Odyssey magazine, and a new book on the Arctic (I published Arctic Investigations in 2000, but the situation up north has changed so radically due to global warming that everything needs to be redone.)

I’m also being hosted by another science writer, Ann Downer-Hazell, on her blog Science + Story. Ann is the author of fantasy novels and nonfiction books for children, including the forthcoming Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication (Lerner, spring 2011), for which she spent quality time with two Asian elephants, learned about the lives of mahouts in Nepal, interviewed people working to reduce human contact for elephants in Africa, and visited the enshrined tail of Jumbo, the world’s most famous elephant, whose remains are treated as sacred relics by the athletes of Tufts University, which owns them.

A former editor at Harvard University Press, Ann has edited such works as Rosamond Purcell’s extraordinary Egg and Nest, and now heads Elefolio LLC, a life science communication company which develops projects in the life sciences for print and digital publishers. She hosts two blogs, Glass Salamander, about fantasy and other good reads, and Science + Story, whose stated goal is “to highlight story in science wherever it can be found, as well as to muse on the place where art and science meet.”

Among the recent topics of Science + Story you’ll find robot mice, steampunk movies, zombie animals, comics about viruses, squirrel appreciation, and jetpacks. When I mention these to Ann, asking how ICESCAPE fits in, she laughs and says, “You left out robot jellyfish!” before responding, “To me the question is following the cool.” She credits her ten-year-old son Ben for inspiring her to follow the weird as well. “I have the ten-year-old boy I deserve, which allows me to indulge my own ten-year-old vibe,” including a fondness for the paranormal, cryptozoology, mummies, monsters, Jonny Quest, secret agents, Tintin, Batman, and mad scientists. Reading about Madeleine L’Engles mom-scientist who cooks beef stew in the lab over a Bunsen burner in A Wrinkle in Time further reinforced the do-it-yourself ethic in science for Ann.

The blog entry in which Science + Story introduces my visit to the far north kicks off with a discussion of the book The 7 Professors of the Far North, a nod to Tintin. “This is an example of a story that creates a bridge for kids between interesting fiction and real science. I look for stories -- real and fictional -- that imbue science with adventure, discovery, and a seat-of-the-pants what-happens-next feeling.” Ann tells me, “Ben and I finished reading The 7 Professors, and within 48 hours I heard about your trip to the Arctic.”

There’s so much we don’t know about the Arctic Circle, about the Arctic Ocean, about the ocean in general. I don’t know what I’m going to find in the Arctic, how I will feel, or how it will be. Will I be able to sleep in a loud icebreaker? Will I be freezing or frightened or seasick? Will there be orca, beluga, bowhead whales, walrus, polar bears? What will 24-hour daylight be like? How will the Arctic smell and sound? What, oh what, will the scientists aboard discover? You’ll be able to follow my travels intermittently on Science + Story. Thank you, Ann!


Melissa Stewart said...

Have a great trip! It will be a fantastic adventure, and nothing beats firsthand research. I'll be following Science + Story.

Marfe Ferguson Delano said...

Wow!I'm looking forward to following your adventures on Science+Story. I wrote about the effects of climate change in the Arctic in Earth in the Hot Seat, but have not witnessed it myself. What a fascinating opportunity. Thanks for keeping us posted!

Gretchen Woelfle said...

Bon voyage! What a fabulous opportunity and who better than you to mine it for all it's worth!

Carmela Martino said...

What an amazing opportunity. Soak it all in!