In this section, our student members and grant winners share information about their interests, current projects and experiences in the field.
05/06/15 - Margaret Sanford, SM ‘14
Personally, I think exploration is what humans are called to do. It is instinct to pursue, to broaden horizons, to challenge ourselves and our comfort. So for me, exploration is a very personal journey as well as an academic one.
I don’t believe anything is worth doing if it doesn’t challenge your worldview in the process. I am currently pursuing my undergraduate degree from Fordham University Lincoln Center, where I am studying anthropology and art history. With my degree I hope to study cultures of the Middle East and Himalayan regions. I am interested in learning how communities translate their relationship with their surroundings into cultural ritual and art. I am very curious as to the role of geography in the human experience and am excited to discover how it will play a role in my own life.
04/22/15 - Rebecca Wolff, SM ‘14
I’m a current 4th year undergraduate student at the University of Guelph, Canada. In Spring 2014 I received a Youth Activity Grant from The Explorers Club to fund my research on perceptions of the Shawi, in the Peruvian Amazon, on waterborne illness. This project is part of my undergraduate thesis and is also being conducted with the Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change (IHACC) project. Upon graduation in spring of 2015, I plan to pursue similar research in my Master’s and reach out to NGOs currently engaging in projects on Indigenous health.
When not in the field for research, I love working on youth capacity building sessions to create future leaders who are globally aware and critical thinkers. Sharing my passion for Latin American culture with future students is both exciting and fulfilling. On campus, I do this through my participation as an executive member of our Engineers Without Borders chapter, where we look at development systems in Africa and North America.
The objective of the research funded by the Explorers Club was to test between two opposing hypotheses regarding how cave animals evolve. This research has important conservation implications, since one hypothesis predicts the importance of the genetic link between cave animals and their surface-dwelling relatives. To accomplish our goal, we study a fascinating if not bizarre animal: the whip spider, or Phrynus longipes.
I was able to train five students, both high school and undergraduate research assistants from Puerto Rico and the mainland US. We collected over 650 behavioral videos and tissue samples for genetic analysis. Currently, we are working to complete the genetics portion of the project, and I am mentoring a team of eight students who are helping to capture and analyze our data.
Our main research site is Cueva de los Culebrones (Cave of the Snakes), so named for the endangered Puerto Rican Boas that feed on bats there. It is a large karst limestone cave – some rooms reach 30 meters in height. The cave houses six species of bats amounting to 300,000 individuals. This also amounts to a lot of bat guano, making high rubber boots a requirement. The warm-blooded bats and the decomposition of their guano results in temperatures up to 10°C (15°F) warmer than the surface. Our study organism, which lives in both caves and the outside forest, is the whip spider. These are giant, bizarre creatures with large, spine-riddled raptorial claws. Interestingly, they do not use their first pair of legs for walking – instead, they have evolved to become extremely elongate and replete with sensory organs; it is with these that whip spiders navigate the lightless cave. This results in the species having up to a 70 cm leg span!
04/01/15 - SM’14 Katherine Akey
My name is Katherine Akey, and I’ve been a Student Member of the Explorers Club since May 2014. A newly minted graduate of the MFA program at the International Center of Photography and a life-long exploration enthusiast, I grew up in the warm glow of admiration for space exploration and even went to space camp. My interests expanded when I read a book about the Discovery expedition to Antarctica and found my interest in the subject insatiable. I fell in love with the novels of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and dreamt of flying low over the Sahara at night in an open cockpit. Although overwhelmed by the number of stories that stirred me, I managed to narrow down my thesis for graduate school to Arctic exploration (although “narrow down” may be a bit generous a word choice).
Currently, I have a number of projects in the pipeline, all in a variety of stages of completion. I have the outline of a project documenting the establishment of the New York-San Francisco airmail route by the US Post Office as well as some preliminary pieces for a massive body of work about World War One, both favorite interests of mine. Right now, I’m in the midst of preparing for a trip to Svalbard, Norway, in the fall of 2015. I’ve had the honor of being accepted to participate in the Arctic Circle Residency.
05/13/14 - Les Kreisfeld
Leslie Kriesfeld of Monash University was awarded $2,500 from the Exploration Grant Fund in 2013, to help research for the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP). His work, Nemiana in the Ediacaran, focuses on understanding Pre-Cambrian life. When asked about the meaning of exploration, Les, shared from his individual experience.
“To me exploration is really a personal adventure of discovery, excitement, and involvement in finding or seeing things that are new to me. While I was recently at a paleontology conference in Brazil near the Bolivian border, in addition to my participation in the discovery of fossils not previously identified in Brazil, it was fascinating to observe the Brazilian Condors in flight, see the crocodiles that inhabit the swamps and rivers of the area, as well as study the huge range of indigenous species of flora and insects, such as the Paper Wasps which we don’t get in the southern States of Australia”
05/02/14 - Sara Cannon
Sara Cannon, a member of the Oceanic Society, was awarded $3,000 from the Youth Activity Fund to help conduct summer research during 2012 and 2013. Her report, Creating and Implimenting a Marine Resource Management Plan for the Ulithi Atoll in the Federated States of Micronesia, helped her write two educational booklets on the topic and contributed to her thesis requirements at the University of California Santa Cruz. As a two-time grant winner, we asked her about the future of exploration.
“In the future, I believe that exploration will take on a completely different meaning from its historical definition. The explorers of our past were traveling through uncharted places. To my generation, exploration will mean traveling through the same places physically, but discovering the many aspects of those places that were overlooked during their initial discovery. This requires a lot more knowledge, persistence, and vigilance. Instead of just describing uncharted territory, exploration will mean trying to describe the way this new territory functions and how it is different from that which we already know. I find this so incredibly exciting! We have so much work to do.”
02/11/14 - Natalia A. Rossi
Natalia, a Ph.D. student and Faculty Fellow with the Department of Ecology at Columbia University, recently reported on her 2013 Exploration Fund supported project, American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in the waters of the Wildlife Refuge Monte Cabaniguán-Ojo de, Agua, Cuba.
“From June 29 to July 16 of 2013 I traveled to the Wildlife Refuge Monte Cabaniguán-Ojo de Agua in the Gulf of Guacanayabo, Eastern Cuba, to conduct a fieldwork to research and monitor the nesting activity of American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus). With the overall goal of better understanding the reproductive ecology of American crocodiles in the area and its relationship with climate and environmental variables, with the participation of Dr. George Amato from the American Museum of Natural History and the collaboration of a Cuban research team, we: i) located, characterized and registered total number of crocodile nests and number of successful nests among four nesting sites; ii) marked, measured and weighted recently emerged hatchlings, sexing a subsample of 30 nests; iii) collected skin tissue samples of hatchlings and juveniles for further genetic analyses.”
12/13/12 - Jeffrey J. Marlow SM’07
As a geobiologist at the California Institute of Technology, I study the limits of microbial life on Earth and the possibility of life beyond our planet. Life is remarkably adaptable, able to deal with scorching temperatures, crushing pressures, desiccating droughts, and just about any other challenge thrown its way. In pursuit of these “extremophiles,” I have conducted field work in Morocco, Iceland, Spain, and at methane seeps at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Understanding the metabolic and molecular bases for these adaptations can lead to useful new products and reveal potentially habitable regions throughout the universe.
09/25/12 - Elizabeth J. Rosen SM’08
Exploration, at least for me, has always been less a matter of interest, desire, or even passion, than one of absolute necessity. In my junior year of high school, I realized that there must be other people in the world who felt the same way, maybe even enough to form an organization, so I typed “explorers club” into Google, just to see what would come up. Six months, one nerve-wracking application, and a couple of meetings later, I was officially a student member of the Northern California chapter.
08/09/12 - Timothy J. Holland SM’11
I wanted to join The Explorers Club because of the people in it. There have been members who have explored the moon to the deepest trench in the ocean. I was lucky enough to have two family friends that were already deeply involved in The Club and sponsored and guided me through the process. I want to be an astronaut.