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30 June, 2002

Research Experience

At the TEA orientation last summer, they kept assuring us, the new TEA's, that our experience would be unique. That is very correct, and I haven't even left the country yet.

I am in the second week of my summer research experience and I still have four to go. Most TEA's spend 10 days to two weeks with their PI's (Principal Investigators) the summer before their Antarctic experience, but I am spending six weeks with the ANSMET (Antarctic Search for Meteorites) team at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. Dr. Ralph Harvey, my PI, felt that it would be difficult to have an authentic research experience in the span of just a couple of weeks. Already, I can see his reasoning.

Research is not something that can be squeezed into a time frame. It is something that moves at its own pace, and is subject to its own whims. I have witnessed several days where Dr. Harvey has several projects planned, that wind up placed on the back burner while he fixes someone else's computer, or gives his interpretation of an image derived from a microscope slide.

Dr. Harvey has trusted me to complete several projects, none of which are beyond my abilities. In fact, at first, I didn't think he gave me enough to do. But with each day come new challenges with instrumentation and time constraints such that, I can see why he didn't overload me with duties. In fact, he's encouraged me to explore my curiosity. He wants me to visit the local museums and travel outside the campus. He has been very generous in loaning me his bicycle and truck to make my transition easier.

Dr. Harvey works most closely with two women. One earned her doctorate recently and along with her own research is assisting Dr. Harvey with coordinating the ANSMET team. Two teams will be going to "the ice" this year, and they need her expertise to supervise the field parties. The other is finishing up her doctoral work and is trying to decipher the complex petrology of a very famous meteorite, ALH84001. This meteorite made headlines worldwide when a team of researchers announced that it contained fossils of ancient Martian bacteria, along with other chemical traces of life. As is often the case in science, the pendulum of evidence has swung the other way, and seems to indicate that those findings were premature and incorrect. However, it remains one of the most complex meteorites ever discovered.

Dr. Harvey has reinforced my belief that the best scientists are skeptics. He is not one to jump on a scientific bandwagon, such as the one that followed the ALH84001 controversy. Instead, he looks for the answers that the geology of a meteorite, or terrestrial rock yields. With this philosophy, the next few weeks should continue to be interesting.

A.W. Smith Building, home of ANSMET

Outdoor art is abundant on the CWRU campus.

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