a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Field trips with the NASA Astrobiology Institute


A field trip to Devon Island
Baruch Blumberg Physician
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

Well, the other thing that I tried to do was to go on the field trips because I felt that was the kind of heart of it and then, you know, I liked field trips, and most of the field trips I'd done before were, you know, with patients or with populations so it's kind of indoors; you get to some exotic place and then you go into hospital. But most of the fieldwork in astrobiology was in harsh environments actually, because one of the things that we were most interested in was extremophiles, that is, organisms that live in what we think of — humans think of — as pretty extreme, the organisms think it's great — if they think. But because that would have been the environment of early Earth and we wanted to understand that, and that would have been the environment on early Mars which was the strong candidate, one of the strong candidates still, for other places with life in our solar system. So we would often go to geothermal sites or, you know… or… but the places I went to were fascinating. One of the most interesting there, I went to a place called Devon Island, which is in the Princess [sic] Elizabeth Islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Okay, so that's 75 degrees north, the only big island north of there is Ellesmere, and you’re… you're just at the same latitude as northern Greenland, and there's a big impact crater there, the Haughton crater and Devon Island's uninhabited. It was briefly inhabited some years ago but it's a very harsh climate; stormy, you know, cold, not much snow, you know, there's not much, as you know, there’s not much snow on the Arctic littoral because the Arctic Ocean is covered by ice so far and as a consequence it's… it’s very… the humidity is very low so you get very little rainfall and very little… and not much snow, but whatever falls stays there. The rain stays because there's permafrost that doesn't drain, and up until now, in the… if you go to the Arctic littoral in the… in the summer, you don't see much snow because it melts. As soon as you get much more rain, even if the climate gets warmer… I'm sorry, as soon as you… if the ice pack covering the Arctic Ocean thins — as it is, by the way, as you know — or disappears, it's the prediction, it may actually disappear in forty years, then you get a lot more rain, that means the snow's going to build up or remain in the… over the summer, that's how you get an Ice Age. You get glaciers flowing south, they build, build, build until they get big enough and high enough and heavy enough and they start… they start moving south. So that's one of the consequences, which oddly isn't talked about much, of… of the thinning of the ice.

[Q] Has global warming affected the ability of your scientists to do their experiments?

Not really because, you know, they're studying what's happening, you know, at the time. A lot of what they do relates to the global warming… global warming issue and, of course, NASA maintains the surveyance, you know, it was a… it was a… using NASA satellites, that the ozone hole was discovered in the South Pole, and in the North Pole as well by the way, and now they've just… they've just… orbited a satellite that can measure the thickness of ice, up until… before that, there's a radar… you can look to some depth with radar, prior to that, you actually had to go and measure it so there was spotty information, but now there should be, you know, world or polar wide value measurement. It’s going to provide some incredible data. So that was a fascinating place and we had to fly in, land in, you know, in a twin Beaver and there's no airfield there but there's a kind of windswept plateau where they can land one of these twin engine Canadian planes, that are really amazing. But you… they wouldn't land if the wind velocity was more than about 12 knots, and the average wind velocity is 20, so, you know, if you landed, I… I was there and I… there was a plane going out and so I decided to take that after I'd been there a few days, and the next plane they couldn't land for another two weeks. But it… but that was a fascinating site and a lot of interesting research happening; exposure to UV light, you know, constant UV in the summer, a very important issue.

American research physician Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011) was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 along with D Carleton Gajdusek for their work on the origins and spread of infectious viral diseases that led to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus. Blumberg’s work covered many areas including clinical research, epidemiology, virology, genetics and anthropology.

Listeners: Rebecca Blanchard

Dr Rebecca Blanchard is Director of Clinical Pharmacology at Merck & Co., Inc. in Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Her education includes a BSc in Pharmacy from Albany College of Pharmacy and a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. While at Utah, she studied in the laboratories of Dr Raymond Galinsky and Dr Michael Franklin with an emphasis on drug metabolism pathways. After receiving her PhD, Dr Blanchard completed postdoctoral studies with Dr Richard Weinshilboum at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on human pharmacogenetics. While at Mayo, she cloned the human sulfotransferase gene SULT1A1 and identified and functionally characterized common genetic polymorphisms in the SULT1A1 gene. From 1998 to 2004 Dr Blanchard was an Assistant Professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. In 2005 she joined the Clinical Pharmacology Department at Merck & Co., Inc. where her work today continues in the early and late development of several novel drugs. At Merck, she has contributed as Clinical Pharmacology Representative on CGRP, Renin, Losartan, Lurasidone and TRPV1 programs and serves as chair of the TRPV1 development team. Dr Blanchard is also Co-chair of the Neurology Pharmacogenomics Working Group at Merck. Nationally, she has served the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics on the Strategic Task Force and the Board of Directors. Dr Blanchard has also served on NIH study sections, and several Foundation Scientific Advisory Boards.

Tags: Devon Island, Arctic littoral, NASA

Duration: 5 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 28 September 2009