Madison-area teacher and students headed to Antarctica

Students and teachers reviewing equipment that will be taken along on their Antarctic expedition. Image: L. Norris, IceCube

It’s not uncommon for teachers to take students on field trips. It gives the students hands-on experience and a chance to view classroom concepts firsthand. Madison-area teacher Juan Botella is about to take three students on the trip of a lifetime; the group is headed to Chile and then on to King George Island, Antarctica.

The opportunity arose through a partnership between U.S. and Chilean Antarctic programs called the Joint Antarctica School Expedition, or JASE. Each year, Chile sends the winners of its national Antarctic School Fair to the continent and this year, thanks to the National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. students will be going along for the first time.

“This project is amazing because it allows students to live the lives of field scientists in one of the most remote regions of the world,” says Botella, who teaches physics, climate and weather, and astronomy at Monona Grove High School. “I also believe that our sharing of the project while the expedition is taking place and the outreach that we will do will motivate other students to follow a scientific career, and help our community to realize the benefits of investing in science.”

It won’t be Botella’s first trip to Antarctica. In 2011, he completed an Antarctic oceanography cruise as part of the PolarTREC program, which supports field research experiences in the polar regions for K–12 teachers. His previous experience and fluency with Spanish make him a natural fit for JASE.

Traveling with him are Anna Caldwell-Overdier, Claire Hacker, and Luke Maillefer. Caldwell-Overdier, a Monona Grove junior, is beginning her second semester in the WIPAC high school internship program, a weekly session for local high school students who want to learn more about IceCube and other WIPAC astrophysics projects.

Botella, Hacker, and Maillefer recently stopped by WIPAC offices to learn more about a neutron monitor that they will carry with them to Chile. During their interactions with the Chilean students, the Monona Grove students will share the neutron monitor and another experiment. The neutron monitor is a relatively simple, straightforward way to measure cosmic rays.

During the trip, the students will collect and analyze data for two Chilean projects. One has to do with understanding what proteins allow certain plants to grow under freezing conditions, the other with tracing the pollen that arrives from South America to King George Island.

In the meantime, the students are preparing for their trip.

“Every few days, my mom says ‘You’re going to Antarctica,’” explained Hacker, who would like to be a scientist someday. “Who wouldn’t want to go to Antarctica?”

Maillefer, who is also interested in science, agreed. “I’m excited. My parents are excited. Everyone’s excited.”

For more information about Botella and the trip, visit the JASE Expedition PolarTREC page at The page includes an overview, journal entries, photos, and resources. You can submit questions via the “Ask the Team” tab.