Will frostbite make my beard fall off?

2nd January 2009 at 00:00
Antarctica project stimulates interest in science by showing how extreme temperature affects the body

How long does it take your fingers to turn black with frostbite and fall off? And how do you sleep in sub-zero temperatures?

Pupils will be able to indulge grim fascination in the effects of temperature extremes on the body as part of a project being launched by Worcester University.

The project, intended to encourage pupils to take an interest in science, will track the progress of a team of adventurers as they race to reach the South Pole. Team QinetiQ includes Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell and TV presenter Ben Fogle.

More than 355 schools in England have already registered to take part in the scheme. They will follow the team's journey online, noting any discoveries made along the way.

Chris Robertson, head of Worcester University's institute of education, said: "It's taking young people somewhere out of the ordinary. "Going to Antarctica still has this sense of challenging boundaries and natural environments.

"It's showing pupils a real-life situation, whichhas the potential to excite and inspire them about science. It's the traveller in us all that's interested."

Online teaching materials allow pupils to follow the team as they prepare for and then take part in the race. Classroom resources look at the impact the expedition will have on team members' bodies: what will the effect be of walking 420 miles in temperatures below -50C? And a quiz tests their knowledge of the coldest continent.

Pupils will also discover the rigorous psychological preparation team members must undergo in order to cope with the extremes of the frozen tundra.

The resources have been developed with the help of Gary House, deputy head of Tenbury High in Worcestershire. He is an experienced explorer who has hauled a sledge across stretches of northern Canada and faced off Arctic wolves.

"The first thing that they won't realise is the enormity of the scale," he said. "I once spent 12 hours walking towards a point that didn't get any bigger at all.

"The website will give some idea of scale, of the enormity of the weather. It's making sure that we look after the planet and treat it in a sustainable way. This is a way to push learning out there into the real world, which is where it should be."

Professor Robertson agrees. "Being a scientist, you bring into play the skills that you have as a sportsman or woman," she said. "It's just relating the world of science to the real world."


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