Pallin, who is based at the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research (PAL LTER) station in Antarctica, studies population regrowth of humpback whales after the whaling era by tracking their behavioral tendencies, such as equatorial breeding grounds and feeding locations. He then collects skin biopsies to determine the gender of the whale and examines mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid (mDNA) to determine the whales’ location of origin.
PHS biology teachers Alexis Custer, Jacqueline Katz, and Jennifer Smolyn organized the conference after developing the partnership with Pallin through a professional development training program at Rutgers University. Data collected by PAL LTER on the Antarctic pelagic marine ecosystem is being incorporated in Katz’s Research Methods class and in Custer and Smolyn’s Biology I classes in a project called Polar Ice.
“It’s data currently being collected this season, but it goes back as far as 1985 … maybe even a little earlier,” Custer said. “[Students are] looking at different relationships in regards to changing global climate [and] to better understand the interconnectedness between the physical and biological world.”
In Polar Ice, students will develop testable questions and answer through the analysis of data from the Palmer LTER station.
“[We want students to understand] what the authentic scientific research experience is like and [realize] that sometimes there is a ridiculous amount of data that you have to parse through and analyze … [students] can see or try to gain an understanding of methodology used in the field,” said Smolyn.
Students are also able to get feedback from scientists and professors at Rutgers regarding their analytical skills and writing.
“It’s a great opportunity … it really helps students hear from other people [in addition] to us about the quality of their writing, the quality of their questions, and different paths they can go on, which I think is a really valuable part,” said Katz.
Students involved in the project will be selected to present their findings at a symposium at Rutgers in June.