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Sterling Heights, Warren

Grissom teacher headed to Antarctica through grant program

October 9, 2012

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Grissom Middle School teacher Brian Dubay bundles up during a conference in Fairbanks, Alaska, that served as a “two-week crash course” for his upcoming trip to Antarctica. Dubay plans to connect with his students via Skype and report back on his experiences through online posts.

Brian Dubay is still weeks away from leaving for Antarctica, but already his eighth-grade social studies students at Grissom Middle School are learning a little something about the icy continent.

“They want me to bring back a polar bear, and so I had to explain, ‘No, that’s the North Pole,’” he laughed. “They said, ‘OK, bring us back a penguin,’ and I said, ‘No, that’s illegal!’”

What Dubay does plan to bring back is abundant firsthand knowledge from accompanying  researcher Samantha Hansen on a Tectonic History of the Transantarctic Mountains expedition.

Hansen, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, is completing a seismic array that will collect data on earthquakes in an effort to explain the formation of the Transantarctic Mountains and Wilkes Subglacial Basin.

While most mountains resulted from collision between continents, that’s not the case in Antarctica, and researchers are trying to determine exactly what occurred, said Dubay.

Dubay was tapped from more than 1,200 candidates to embark on the six-week adventure through a grant from the National Science Foundation and PolarTREC, a program that gives K-12 teachers real-world research experience in the North and South poles. 

If technology cooperates — limited bandwidth and weather patterns can wreak havoc on the connectivity there — Dubay plans to post journal entries and photos online regularly for Grissom students and the community to see, and to Skype live with the kids to discuss what he’s learning.

He acknowledged it might take a little bit of scheduling finesse to coincide the videos for when the kids are in class, but he’s determined to make it work.

“It’ll all be live, but I’ll be … a day and like 12 hours ahead,” he said. “I’ll be doing it in the middle of the night where I’m at. That’s going to be a little tricky.”

Principal Joseph Konal said he was pleased that Grissom students will be able to experience real-world examples of scientific research through Dubay’s adventure.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity that he may have, and the fact that he’s going to be sharing these experiences with our students is fantastic,” he said. “This should be exciting for us.”

Dubay, who already travels frequently for mathematics and geology research, said he became intrigued by the prospect of going to Antarctica after learning about PolarTREC from a professor at Wayne State University.

After the application and selection process — which involved demonstrating his engagement as a teacher, his commitment to involving students in the process, his teaching methodology, technological abilities, etc., then being tapped by a specific researcher — he attended a PolarTREC conference in Fairbanks, Alaska, that served as a “two-week crash course” for the Antarctica trip.

The first leg of Dubay’s journey south will be substantially warmer than the rest, as he flies to New Zealand, where, armed with a beeper, he’ll await word that the rapidly shifting weather has cleared enough to fly into Antarctica.

His first few days in Antarctica will be occupied by a government-mandated survival training course — nicknamed “Happy Camper School” — that familiarizes visitors with working at high altitudes and the skills needed “in case things go wrong while you’re out in the field,” he said.

From there on out, Dubay plans to jam-pack his days on the continent with learning opportunities galore.

While he won’t be getting as up close and personal with penguins as his students hoped — visitors are forbidden from interacting with the creatures — he hopes to capture photos with his zoom lens.

A self-described amateur astronomer, he’s hoping to use his special privileges to “hitch a ride to the South Pole,” about 1,000 miles away from his base camp, to visit the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a particle detector that records interactions of nearly massless subatomic particles in astrophysical sources.

He’s also heard there might be an opportunity for under-glacier diving, and he’d like to see Lake Vostok, a subglacial lake recently exposed by Russian scientists that’s preserved evidence of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years of climate change. 

“I’m not going to sleep, I don’t think,” he quipped.

Dubay plans to return home in mid-December, chock full of ideas for lessons on climate change and other issues affecting Antarctica.

And while he said his wife and the rest of his family, accustomed to his wild adventures, are supportive of the trip, “they think I’m crazy,” he laughed.

To read about Dubay’s experiences in Antarctica, visit or follow him on Twitter at dubay.

For more local news coverage, see the following newspapers:


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