$3M NSF grant to send UIC students on historic arctic expedition

Northwest Passage Project mapThe University of Illinois at Chicago College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is seeking a select group of students for a historic summer expedition that will send them from city to sea under the banner of the National Science Foundation.

The one-time Northwest Passage Project, a climate and marine research and education program aimed at engaging diverse participants and audiences, is funded by a three-year, $3 million NSF grant.

Set to begin in August 2017, students will join ocean scientists aboard the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, a 200-foot sailing vessel, for an excursion across the Canadian Arctic’s remote Northwest Passage.

The initiative is led by researchers from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography’s Inner Space Center, in collaboration with UIC and five other minority-serving institutions: California State University Channel Islands; City College of New York; Florida International University; Texas State University; and Virginia Commonwealth University.

SSV Oliver Hazard Perry

Beginning in August 2017, UIC students will join ocean scientists aboard the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, a 200-foot sailing vessel, for an excursion across the Canadian Arctic’s remote Northwest Passage.
Photo: Onne van der Wal

Other partners include the film company David Clark, Inc.; the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry; three science museums; and PBS NewsHour Reporting Labs.

Scientists from the departments of biological sciences and earth and environmental sciences will select 15 – 20 UIC undergraduates — about half from science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, and the other half from any major — to participate in the expedition and on-shore support activities.

UIC will be represented on the vessel by at least three undergraduates and one graduate student on two crews, each on a 17-day journey. At least four undergraduate student internships will be supported by NSF funds, the rest being supported by UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences programs.

Students will learn about the changing Arctic as the ship travels; gain navigation and sailing skills; retrace lost expeditions to the passage; and work alongside the scientists as they conduct Arctic research.

Participants will also contribute to 30 live broadcasts from the Arctic that will stream from the ship via satellite to the Inner Space Center, which will then send the transmissions to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Alaska Sea Life Center and UIC. Audiences will be able to interact in real time with the scientists and students aboard the ship during these broadcasts.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for UIC students, says Miquel Gonzalez-Meler, the faculty representative involved with the project.

“Students will not only be part of pioneering research in the Arctic, but will also be able to place the science in the social context of a globalized world,” said Gonzalez-Meler, professor of biological sciences and the college’s associate dean for student academic affairs.

“We’ve built a program where adventurous and highly motivated students will be able to observe the climate sensitivity of the Arctic and the social and climate repercussions of these changes to Chicago, Illinois, and the nation. And best of all, no experience is necessary.”

Max Berkelhammer, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, and other faculty mentors will also work with the UIC students.

Some students not aboard the ship will participate in science telepresence or in the media production while based at the University of Rhode Island’s oceanography institute. Other students will participate from UIC in support of onboard science activities, science communication and social media.

All UIC students selected for the project will take a college-required course during the spring semester before their summer internships.

An onboard film crew will capture the science discoveries and follow the students for a two-hour documentary, “Frozen Obsession,” that will describe the history and implications – from climate to commerce – of the changing Arctic.

In 2018, UIC’s student team will host a screening of the film and other events related to the expedition.

UIC undergraduates – seniors are excluded – interested in applying to the program can find more information and an application online. The deadline to apply is Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. ET.

Selected students will be notified by the end of November to enroll in the mandatory topic course. Call (312) 413-7563 or email mmeler@uic.edu for further details.

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