Aparna Banerjee and Alexis Castillo will spend a month on one of the most amazing islands on the planet to collect laboratory samples.
The landscape that will receive scientists from the Universidad Católica del Maule (UCM), who began their trip to Antarctica to complete a study, is as fascinating as it is inhospitable. Aparna Banerjee and Alexis Castillo, now in Punta Arenas receiving training to face this odyssey, will spend about a month on the extraordinary Deception Island, an active volcano that rises from the ocean in a curious horseshoe shape. Located on the Bransfield Strait, the scene includes barren volcanic slopes, fumarole-filled beaches and ash-covered glaciers.
“I always had the dream of exploring Antarctica, since long before I applied for the project,” said Banerjee, the main investigator.
“Spending Christmas there is something great. For me, the celebration will be science because science is a surprise. Who knows if I’m not going to have my best Christmas there. I am very happy”, the also PhD in Botany emphasized.
Originally from India, the microbiologist has devoted her career to investigating and documenting microbial community dynamics in extreme environments. Funds were recently awarded from the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) to analyze complex carbohydrates, known as polysaccharides, in the fumaroles of the southern ring of the land. The idea is to detect bacterial polysaccharides with the potential of becoming food additives, after examination by laboratories in Chile and abroad.
This is the first time that the UCM has obtained INACH resources, through the National Competition for Antarctic Scientific and Technological Research Projects.
“We will be on Deception Island for 25 days and the climate in Antarctica is changeable. We hope that the weather is good and that we can take samples from the six sites that we have within our objective,” the expert indicated.
Banerjee and Castillo, both from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (CIEAM) in campus, will stay at the Spanish base “Gabriel de Castilla”, the only facilities that exist in the place.
“We will be visitors and we will have to submit to their rules. We will depend on this unit to be able to sleep, eat, and everything related to human issues,” Castillo said regarding the shelter where they will be practically in confinement.
“We don’t know what we’re going to face, but that’s just as challenging. You must consider that the thermal pools have temperatures between 35 and 80 degrees Celsius, which implies that it will not be so easy to collect samples because we can get burned. It will be hard work”, added the PhD in Applied Sciences and alternate director of the project.
The academics will travel this Sunday by plane to the Chilean refuge in the Antarctic peninsula, where they will take a ship to Deception Island. Their luggage includes tubes, cylinders, and filters and, of course, their Christmas spirit.
“I am taking a gift to myself but my greatest gift will be to meet all of the objectives of the project,” said Banerjee.