Mrs. Advani’s kindergarten class at McGraw World School in Fort Collins, Colorado asked us some questions about our work and what they have read on our blog.

What are the nematodes doing? – Brayden
When we look at the nematodes under the microscope, mostly it just looks like they wiggle. But here in Antarctica, nematodes have a very important job – they recycle! An ecosystem is not very different from a person who eats nutritious food, or a vehicle that uses expensive fuel; an ecosystem needs certain things in order to function properly. In a polar desert, a lot of things we might take for granted are in short supply, and the nematodes help the ecosystem get some of those important things that it needs, like carbon.

Why do the birds eat the trash? – Colin
The skua are very clever birds, Colin. They know that humans throw a lot of good food into the trash. They also know that it is much easier to get our food than to look for their own. Skua have very good eyesight, and they instantly recognize something that might have food in it, and they want it!

Skua

How do you discover the nematodes? – Abby
Nematodes are very small, and we cannot just look for them outside. First, we take a scoop of soil and bring it back to the lab. Here you can see Bishwa taking a soil sample.
New Channel
Then we put some in a plastic dish, fill it with water, and stir it around to get the nematodes away from the particles of soil. We pour the liquid through a sieve which lets all the water go through but catches the nematodes – like draining really tiny pasta! Karen is very good at this part, because she is very careful when she works with the nematodes. Here she is pouring the nematodes onto the sieve and washing them into the tube.
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Then we look through a microscope and count what we find! This part takes a long time, because we have to count them very carefully. Diana is the best and fastest at counting, but the rest of us are pretty good, too. Here, Uffe and Bishwo count the nematodes.
Bishow and Uffe counting nematodes

Why did you make a menorah out of penguins? – Stephanie
We didn’t make it, but we liked to look at it while we at our dinner! The folks that live here come from all different backgrounds, and they want to share a bit of their culture with their friends and coworkers. Because the penguin is symbolic of Antarctica they probably thought it would be a cute thing to do, and we all thought so too!

Why do you look at nematodes? – Sarah
That’s a really good question, Sarah! We’re curious about how the nematodes influence their environment. This is a really special place, where the BIGGEST land animal is only a millimeter in length. Do you know how small that is?? It’s teeny! Also, we don’t have any plants out here, except for moss, so the little animals that are in the soil down here do a lot of the work that would normally be done by bigger, more complex organisms in other soils. For example, the soil in your backyard will contain plant roots and worms and decomposing leaves and beetles and other assorted bits and pieces of organic matter (stuff that is or used to be alive). We just don’t have that! So we study the nematodes, rotifers and tardigrades to figure out how they do all the work themselves. This tells us a lot about how the ecosystem works, and we can use this information to help us understand other ecosystems.

What do you eat? – Gabi
When we are “in town” (McMurdo Station) we eat in the galley, and it is very similar to school cafeteria food – sloppy food in big trays that we serve to ourselves. In “the field” we eat dehydrated meals or, if we’re lucky, we stay at a field camp where someone will cook for us. Nick was VERY happy when Ana made spaghetti for us after a long day of hard work.
Hungry Field Hands
Also, we don’t get fresh food as often as you can at home, so we are happy when we see ANYTHING green, like lettuce. Karen is a vegetarian, and she is getting VERY tired of tofu stir-fry in peanut sauce. She says that when she gets home she’s only going to eat salad.

How do you get all the clothes on? – Francesca
The same way that you get all your winter clothes on – very carefully and in a particular order. First the thermal underwear and socks, then the fleece layer, then the windbreak layer, then the boots, hat, neck gaiter, mittens and parka.

Where do nematodes get food? – Mackenzie
The nematodes get their food from the soil. Believe it or not, nematodes are not the smallest things that live here! They eat tiny, single-celled organisms called microbes. Microbes are very abundant here, and contain a lot of nutrition, so when the nematodes eat them, they help the ecosystem to recycle some of that good stuff!

Where do you sleep? – Emma
When we are in McMurdo we sleep in dormitories, similar to those found on college campuses. When we are in the dry valleys, we like to sleep in tents, but sometimes we have to sleep on the ground.
Karen's Tent at F6
It gets cold at night, so we have nice warm sleeping bags to snuggle in, but we often have to sleep in all our clothes just to keep warm!
Karen's Sleep Kit
But no matter how cold it gets, you really can’t beat the view! Look at that!
View from Karen's Tent

Why did that guy have a bag on his head? (in the pictures on the blog) – Cloey
Bishwo is an outstanding young scientist who we think will someday be a famous researcher. He is also a really funny guy, and he let us put colored tape all over him, and give him a bag for a hat, and then take his picture. We were just being silly, because science is very hard work, and sometimes you just have to get a little silly. For example, one day we all decided to pretend we were in Hawaii. It was Aloha Saturday!
Aloha Saturday
See? Scientists are fun, too!

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