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We are student teachers in science education in the Teacher Education Program @ UCSB. We are working on a lesson plan that researches the work and story of Dr. Jerri Nielsen, the physician who was stranded @ the South Pole Research Station in 1999. We were wondering if you could offer us any insight or information about her or your perspective of her as a scientist. We are required to ask a scientist from this university for this information. Any information, opinions, or help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Question Date: 2002-11-11
Answer 1:

I am really glad you asked this question, because I got to do some digging around and learning on the web. I had heard about Dr. Jerri Nielsen a while back, but only through a few minutes of CNN blurbs. Therefore, I enjoyed reading further about her on various web sites (see below). I have also ordered her book called Ice Bound because I found her interviews to be so candid, so straightforward, and so truthful.

By all accounts, she seems to be someone who truly believes in her lifelong career, a healer of the sick. She always seemed to put other people's welfare, both physically and mentally, before her own. For instance, she waited 3 months before telling other people at the station that she had cancer because she didn't want them to worry unnecessarily. Also, when she did receive treatments, she took a less potent chemotherapy in order to ward off side effects that would hinder her duties as the only doctor for the people at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station. Also, I never heard her complain about the decidedly, not-up-to-date medical technology available to her and her patients at this facility although it must have been excruciating to know that there were remedies available if only time would prevail! She just made good use of what she had available at all times, be it the conglomeration of multiple instruments linked together to send back a picture of her cancerous cells to the US (which sounded like a monumental feat given her resources), or the constant support of those around her, the very people she had sworn to protect from harm.

From my perspective as a scientist, I would think it was hardest to be able to rapidly communicate with the outside world (i.e., via email with her cancer specialist doctor in Indiana), but not be able to receive or send physical things at the same rapid rate.

What really fascinated me though, was her absolute transformation while in the 'last frontier"- she and the others willingly isolated themselves for 8.5 months at the ends of the earth. Talk to anyone who has gone to the Antarctic and see what they say about it. They all have a deep reverence for the extreme environments found there, they all found it profoundly life-changing, and they all want to go back. I have worked in one of the "last frontiers" as well- the deep ocean. I currently make my living exploring for new life in Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon, but we do it in extreme comfort relative to what Dr. Nielsen went through! She faced the prospect of death in one of the last frontiers, and walked away from it- only wanting to return.

Here are my questions for you:

What is it about "last frontiers" that makes (some) people want to brave the elements and the danger?
Is the research they are doing, or supporting, "worth it", in your opinion?
Do they have the right to be supported by those of us back in the "civilized world"?

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