Geo016 - Exploration of Mars

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Geo016 / Exploration of Mars / (M) 3:00-5:20 / Lincoln Field 105 / Prof. James Head

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Shveta Raina (03/24/04)

The presentation and discussion led by Professor David Marchant on Monday was fascinating and absorbing because it provided a window into the life of an extremely dedicated man. It seems almost unimaginable for me that someone could spend seventeen years of his life going back repeatedly to the same, frigid conditions, and continue being so lively, so dynamic, and so committed. It makes me wonder just how committed scientists have to be to their work.

A topic we touched on and could discuss further was how necessary it is to be a trained geologist to go into a place like Antarctica and do basic research. Professor Marchant mentioned that initially, he often took along people majoring in History and other humanities, and they were just as helpful as the other science concentrators. He made me feel like it was more important on such a trip to be a good team-member, to be creative and positive, than to be a hard-core scientist.

Our warm-up discussion before Professor Marchant arrived was helpful. It seems a good idea to have these discussions in the future before we hear people talk to us because it definitely got me thinking and more interested in what was to follow. Overall, I felt like we all got a lot out of the discussion, and I noticed that several people participated as well. There were three basic thoughts that struck me as interesting.

Firstly, I felt like a very ‘real' view of scientific research was portrayed in the presentation and a very human aspect of the whole experience was projected. From the fact that its daylight all the time there, to the fact that you can't shower for a hundred days, the lifestyle of a scientist in Antarctica is very, very different from our lifestyles here; and that was made very clear. Once you get there, you have to be able to keep a clear mind to deal with day to day issues and focus on research. Problems that could arise like those with long distance relationships or health need to be dealt with beforehand to allow for a tension free stay there. This could be taken a step further – if that physical displacement can call for clearing your mind so it can be applied freely, can scientists be requested to take similar precautions before they begin research on projects even in their own offices?

Secondly, the tools Professor Marchant suggested to deal with these differences in lifestyle seem highly effective to me. I especially liked the way he said that there need to be defined tasks for each person in order to keep them focused. It seems that he has a very good understanding of human nature and uses it to be a good team leader. His way of using the opening of a window as a test of character, encouraging push-ups as a way to beat a common enemy (the weather) and propagating that if you're unhappy you will always look down, and not observe anything, are highly perceptive. He also remarked that he does not choose people who are only doing this as a means to escape, because then they are in it for themselves and not the goals of the group. This search for team-spirit in people's characters is a great way to seek for the success of the mission as a whole.

Thirdly, the concept of solitude seemed to dominate a lot of the discussion. This is a subject that is up for consideration whenever research is taken into account, but more so in this case because of the inaccessibility of Antarctica. It is almost disturbing how being removed from other people can affect your personality, your character, your mental state. It is evident that people who choose to be scientists hence need to be at peace with themselves as much as possible, so that they can utilize their minds for intellectual pursuits.

In conclusion, it was a discussion which definitely had me awake the whole time, more than I can say for several other classes at college!
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