Headed to a hot spot this spring St. Paul's School student to take part in geothermal project at Yellowstone

March 06, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Kathryn Requardt was bargaining for a trip to Iceland and a water adventure. Instead, she'll get 10 days in Yellowstone National Park, tracking bear and elk and investigating how geysers affect life in the middle of a continent, rather than on an island.

The 14-year-old eighth-grader at St. Paul's School for Girls is one of 26 students in North America and the United Kingdom taking part in the eighth annual Jason Project, a hands-on science expedition that students and teachers in far-flung classrooms will watch.

Founded by modern-day explorer Robert Ballard, who discovered the sunken Titanic, the Jason Project is a school-yearlong program that culminates in a two-week scientific expedition shared with 2 1/2 million students through interactive broadcasts and Internet access.

"The project gives the students an idea of what's going on in current research that they don't see," said Kristin Gould, Kathryn's seventh-grade science teacher, who introduced the Jason Project to the Brooklandville girls school last year.

This year, the student explorers -- called Argonauts, after the followers of the mythological Jason, who sought the Golden Fleece -- will join a team of scientists conducting on-site research at Yellowstone's hot spot.

During two weeks in April and May, the students will participate in this year's project, "Journey from the Center of the Earth," at the Yellowstone site, which will be linked to students in North America and the United Kingdom through interactive broadcasts.

The field studies will involve biology, geology and glaciology, and will compare and contrast the volcanic activity in Yellowstone and Iceland, though no students will visit Iceland because of logistical complications, a project spokeswoman said.

"I'm going to be researching mammals and how they adapt to the geysers and the heat and how it changes their living," said Kathryn, who enjoys science and decided a few years ago she might like to make it her life's work.

Though based in Yellowstone, this year's Argonauts will compare geothermal hot spots -- areas in Earth's upper layer where rocks move upward and melt, forming magma -- there and in Iceland, said project spokeswoman Madalyn Smith. Each area contains geysers, glaciers, boiling mud pots, hot springs and volcanic activity, she explained.

While Kathryn is trekking five miles a day to explore the habits and habitats of wolf and bear, her classmates at St. Paul's will be able to watch -- and maybe lend a hand.

St. Paul's seventh- and eighth-grade girls will visit for a day NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, one of the project's 27 Primary Interactive Network Sites around the country that will carry broadcasts from Yellowstone.

Administered by the Jason Foundation for Education, the project began in 1989 after Ballard received thousands of letters from youngsters inquiring about his Titanic discovery.

With corporate support and state-of-the-art technology, Ballard put the project together to excite and engage students in science and motivate and train their teachers. Explorations have studied shipwrecks and rain forests, and followed the footsteps of Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands.

Last year, Gould attended a teacher training session and brought the Jason curriculum -- available free or for a small fee -- to her classroom. Her students studied local streams, gauged their well-being and submitted data, via the Internet, for comparison with other areas.

In the spring, Gould's class went to Goddard to see what Ballard's crew was up to in the Florida Keys.

"From the sites, you can operate the equipment they are using" and ask questions and make comments about what's going on at that moment, she said. "To be able to have this kind of experience shows them that science is not just the textbook or the vocabulary."

The Goddard visit was enough to get Kathryn interested in being an Argonaut. "We saw the live research," she said. "I thought that was kind of cool that students could do this research."

Kathryn pursued the application, writing two essays on her interest in science and getting the required recommendations. She was one of more than 1,000 youths who applied.

She said she made the final cut "because of my enthusiasm for science," which includes a fondness for manatees. "I was pretty honest about how I would fit in the expedition."

Gould said Kathryn is an "enthusiastic, hands-on learner" who will benefit greatly from the project.

"It's an experience of a lifetime at that age to meet world-renowned scientists like Bob Ballard. So much of science is textbook, but you don't really learn it until you do it," Gould said.

Before the expedition, Kathryn is doing a bird-watch study, growing bacteria in a cylinder and keeping a journal. And Gould's seventh-grade students will be studying the Jason Project curriculum and conducting experiments for about a month before the expedition.

"It's really exciting. I've never been this important or done anything like this before," said Kathryn, who lives in Federal Hill. "But I'm going to be put to work a lot harder out there than here. I'm not going to be bored."

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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