NIU drills Antarctica

By Tom Bukowski

The National Science Foundation chose NIU to receive part of a $12.9 million grant for research and excavation in Antarctica.

NIU faculty and students will be involved in the project and NIU’s own Ross Powell, a geology and environmental geosciences professor, will help lead the international project.

“Ross Powell has been at the very heart of getting the project going,” said Reed Scherer, associate professor of geology and environmental geosciences.

As part of the project, titled ANDRILL, Powell and team members will drill in Antarctic seabeds to uncover rock cores, according to an NIU press release. The team will drill deeper than ever before in the hopes of reaching new sedimentary layers.

The scientists hope the project will reveal more about Antarctica’s dynamic history in the hopes of being able to better understand the rest of the world’s climate.

Other American colleges involved in the ANDRILL project include Florida State University, Ohio State University, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Nebraska, which together make up 50 percent of the ANDRILL staff. Other countries involved in the project include Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Powell and Scherer knew NIU would be an important part of the ANDRILL project when NIU and the University of Nebraska were given a joint major-research instrumentation grant to drill in Antarctica about a year and a half ago, Scherer said. Since then, more than 65 American scientists have applied for positions on the project, Scherer said.

Post-graduate geology student Matt Konfirst also hope

s to be part of the ANDRILL project and possibly make the trip to Antarctica himself.

“I’m very excited and always wanted to go,” he said.

Not every student, however, shares Konfirst’s enthusiasm.

“[The money] could have been spent on educating students to not harm the planet instead [of on the ANDRILL project],” said Carolyn Paluch, a junior visual communications major.

If Scherer, Konfirst or other NIU faculty or students are chosen to take part in the ANDRILL project, he or she will undergo a six-week training program, Scherer said.

The ANDRILL project will be beneficial for NIU by attracting top scientists and graduate students to the school, Scherer said.

Students interested in learning more about ANDRILL and previous Antarctic drilling projects should visit the official ANDRILL project Web site at