Future scientists get encouragement via call from Antarctica

Congressman tells class about penguins, pelicans

January 17, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The students leaned in, straining to hear the words emanating from the fancy speakerphone.

The voice on the other end of the line - Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett - was beamed yesterday via satellite to Hampstead's North Carroll High School from Antarctica, where the congressman, five other lawmakers and the director of the National Science Foundation are wrapping up a visit to U.S. research stations to learn more about federally funded studies conducted on the icy continent.

"I hope there are more future scientists and engineers in this group because there are too many bright, young minds going into law and political science," Bartlett told the students in Karen Luniewski's science research class. The world has too many lawyers and politicians, he said, but "there are not enough scientists, engineers and mathematicians."

The call arrived a few minutes after noon yesterday in Hampstead, which was about 6 a.m. Friday in Antarctica.

It's summer on the world's southernmost continent, and the temperature at McMurdo Station on Antarctica's southern coast, where Bartlett and the congressional delegation spent the night, was a balmy 30 degrees - warmer, even, than the 25-degree temperatures outside the students' classroom in northern Carroll County.

"I thought this was just a fantastic opportunity for the students," said Luniewski, who teaches physics, earth science and science research, an advanced class in which students learn techniques they apply to an eight-week research project of their own.

"They were able to ask questions and see the connections with what they're doing and how important research is in what's going on in the world right now," Luniewski said. "Many of these students are really interested in science and that's why they're taking this course."

Administrators at North Carroll High reserved a phone line for the congressman's 30-minute teleconference to avoid the embarrassment of Bartlett getting a busy signal or being put on hold.

Asked to start the teleconference with a two-minute synopsis of his trip, Bartlett spoke for nearly 15 minutes about penguins, seals and pelicans; Antarctica's climate, land mass and two-mile thick base of snow and ice; and his nine-hour flight from New Zealand to McMurdo Station, strapped to a bench in the back of a military transport plane.

Bartlett, a member of the House Science Committee, holds master's and doctoral degrees in physiology and worked as a professor, research scientist and inventor before running for Congress in 1992.

Although some of Luniewski's students gazed out the window and one suggested that the best thing about the teleconference was getting out of his regular class, many of the 11th- and 12th-graders seemed genuinely interested in the research Bartlett described.

The students asked whether fossils have been found on the continent.

Yes, the six-term Republican congressman told them, evidence has been found that dinosaurs once roamed the region.

"I'm very curious as to what happened that changed this from a subtropical climate that allowed dinosaurs to [reach] the perpetual deep freeze here today," Bartlett said.

To Cindy Yowan, a 16-year-old junior, that was the best part. Her grandfather is a nuclear physicist and she hopes to follow him into a career in science.

"I really liked learning about the paleontology, how he wondered what caused them to die out. I'd like to research that some day."

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