Sunday, March 18, 2012

Student Questions from Lafayette, Indiana!

Questions from Mrs. Candice Kissinger's 8th grade science class at Tecumseh Junior High School, Lafayette, Indiana

1. How deep is the ice next to the Cake Eater Lab?
The Cake Eater Lab is surrounded by packed snow that looks like ice.  The snow depth can vary from several feet to a few inches depending on the terrain of the tundra. [Grad student Kyle Custard]

2. What type of cake (and other food) do you get to eat at the Cake Eater Lab?  Does it have FROSTing?
We can eat whatever type of food (frosted and non-frosted) we bring to the lab!  We usually eat packed lunches out at the lab.  Kyle usually eats chicken, cabbage, carrots, apples, and brown rice.  Kerri is a fan of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, turkey sausage, carrots, and apples! [Grad student Kyle Custard and Post-doc Kerri Pratt]

3. Can you take showers there?  Is there warm water?
The hut where we sleep does have a shower, and the water is warm! [Grad student Kyle Custard]

4. After you look at the aurora borealis, what else is there to do up there?
We are actually quite busy.  We must keep our instrument sampling outside the Cake Eater Lab running for all hours every day!  We also run experiments and calibrations at the lab, prepare instruments for aircraft flights, try to understand our new data, exercise at the gym, go grocery shopping, eat, and sleep!  [Post-doc Kerri Pratt]

5. Do you make snow cones?
We have not.

6. Do you make snow men?
We do not make snowmen because it would be very difficult.  Unlike the snow in Indiana, the snow is so dry that is does not pack easily.  The extremely cold temperatures mean that the air is very dry too. [Grad student Kyle Custard]

7. Do scientists have snowball fights?
We haven't yet!

8. Can you bring us a sample of Alaska air (and snow)?
We can try our best to bring home a small snow sample!

9. How come all of you in that picture aren't sinking into the snow?
The wind causes snow crystals to break, and then the rounded grains stick together freezing into larger crystals (called sintering).  The snow nearest to the ground here fell last fall and has been packed tightly so that we do not fall into the snow!  [Grad student Kyle Custard and Post-doc Kerri Pratt]

10. Do you need snowshoes to walk around?

11. What is that box thing doing?
This is a snow chamber that was built at Purdue.  We put different types of snow and sea ice samples into the snow chamber and flow gases through it.  The gases can react with the samples, and we measure those gases with Kerri's mass spectrometer. [Grad student Kyle Custard and Post-doc Kerri Pratt]

12. Is it warm inside the airplane?  You look cold.
Well, there is a heater, and it does a pretty good job.  The airplane is "leaky" though, so the heater has to work hard!  The heater is very important, since the pilot has to be comfortable.  I am very high maintenance and have to be properly pampered, or I get really crabby!  [Professor and Pilot Paul Shepson]
REVISION: The heater stopped working on the flight today, and it got extremely cold on the airplane!!!

13. Are there any polar bears there?
Yes, although we have not seen any yet.  They like to hang out on the sea ice. [Grad student Kyle Custard and Post-doc Kerri Pratt]

14. What is the coldest temperature it's been since you got there?
Since Kyle and I arrived in Barrow, Alaska on February 18th, the lowest temperature has been -35 deg. F!  That is even without considering the wind chill!  During the daytime, it is often clear and sunny, about -20 to -30 deg. F with the wind making it feel like -40 to -50 deg. F! [Post-doc Kerri Pratt]

15. What is the warmest temperature it's been since you got there?
The warmest temperature in Barrow since February 18th has been 3 deg. F, over 80 degrees lower than the summer-like weather that Lafayette has been experiencing recently! [Post-doc Kerri Pratt]

16. Did you have jet lag after getting there?  I don't think so because your airplane isn't a jet. 
Yes, we had jet lag, but you don't need to ride on a jet to have jet lag.   Jet lag refers to the effect that changing time zones has on the body.  Alaska is 4 hours behind Indiana time, so when arrived at 10 PM it felt like 2 AM to us! [Grad student Kyle Custard]

17. What is your favorite part of this project?
- Just being in Barrow and the experience of viewing the aurora borealis [Grad student Kyle Custard]
- I get really excited about nearly everything associated with science, travel, and winter!  So far, though, I'm most excited about our new data and seeing the aurora borealis! [Post-doc Kerri Pratt]

18. Have you had frost bite yet?  What happened?
No, and we hope we won't have it!

19. Is the aurora borealis any other color?  It mostly looks green.
It can also be red, but it is less frequent and more difficult to see. [Grad student Kyle Custard]

Thank you to the students at Tecumseh Junior High for great questions!  We hope that you enjoy reading our research blog!

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