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Only in The News; A LPN exclusive: LPHS biology teacher learns lesson in Northwest Territory

August 28, 2008
HEATHER SACKETT, News Staff Writer
LAKE PLACID — Lake Placid High School biology teacher Tammy Morgan spent 10 days this summer in Canada’s Northwest Territory studying astrobiology and learning lessons she will try to impart to her students this fall.

“It changed my entire teaching perspective,” she said. “I’ve been rewriting lessons since I got back.”

Morgan, who lives in Saranac Lake, was one of just a handful of people, some teachers, some students and researchers, who spent July 25 to Aug. 2 in the Canadian Arctic (north of Hudson Bay and north of even Baffin Bay) on Axel Heiberg island at the McGill Arctic Research Station (MARS) as part of NASA’s Spaceward Bound program. The group studied different elements of the polar desert, like perennial streams, liquid water, glaciers and segregated ice. So, what exactly does the arctic have to do with space?

“It’s the closest environment on earth we have to Mars,” Morgan said. “It’s cold, it’s dry, it has the same elements.”

Morgan explained that scientists think that the presence of segregated ice (ice that is formed by repeat cycles of freezing and thawing) and water that can remain a liquid even when temperatures fall below freezing due to a very high salt concentration on Axel Heiberg means there’s a chance these conditions also exist or once existed on Mars.

“Whenever you find liquid water, you find living organisms,” she said.

According to its Web site, the mission of Spaceward Bound is to train the next generation of space explorers by having students and teachers participate in the exploration of scientifically interesting but remote and extreme environments on Earth as analogs for human exploration of the moon and Mars.

Astronauts who will be exploring the moon and Mars in 2020 and beyond are now in middle school. That’s why, NASA says, getting students interested in astrobiology and geology now is important.

Morgan said life at the research station was fun and that the experience was, for her, as much about sharing cultures with the Inuit teachers as it was about science. She said although the Northwest Territory is very isolated, they enjoyed most of the same amenities we can expect here. A sun that never set, providing 24 hours of daylight, allowed the group to go for midnight hikes.

“It was in the 40s or 50s every day, like spring or fall here,” she said. “It was great though. Because the sun was up 24 hours a day, it never got cold at night.”

For Morgan, who also teaches chemistry and biology labs and Advanced Placement environmental science, the things she learned this summer will translate into a combination of applied science classes for her students. Things she learned about liquid water with high salt concentrations will be practically applied in lessons about why our highway departments salt roads in winter.

A goal for this year, Morgan said, other than getting students comfortable with measuring temperatures only in Celsius, is exposing them to what being a scientist is really all about — field work. Luckily, the Adirondacks provide many opportunities to get outside and do just that.

“It’s a meshing of all the different fields into one interdisciplinary study,” she said. “Chemistry can be dry sometimes. This ties the big picture back in.”

Article Photos

Tammy Morgan looking out over the White Glacier.

 
 

 

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