Students conducting research in Antarctica

Antarctica Research Project

Samantha Buck
Geological Sciences Undergraduate

Antarctica was not somewhere I expected to visit during my undergraduate experience at U of I (or in my lifetime, for that matter).

Drs. Dennis Geist (Idaho), Karen Harpp (Colgate) and Mike Garcia (Hawaii) developed a field and laboratory-based project through the NSF to study the Vanda dike swarm in the Dry Valleys area of Victoria Land, Antarctica. The overall goal of the project is to understand a phase of Antarctica’s tectonic history where a period of subduction ended and magmatic extension began. Each professor brought an undergraduate student from their respective universities, and we helicoptered and hiked around the desolate icescape recording field observations and collecting rock samples to support various research projects.

My project investigates the conditions at which these dikes formed. I’ve worked in the lab, preparing the rock samples for a variety of analyses (X-ray fluorescence, ICP-mass spectrometry, electron-microprobe) that will be used to determine the pressure/depth at which those dikes were emplaced. For these analyses, I draw upon knowledge gained in undergraduate classes like mineralogy, igneous/metamorphic petrology, and geochemistry. This experience makes those classes far more relatable and has made me realize how much we are learning.

This has been an amazing learning process, and I encourage everyone to seek out any opportunity for hands-on experience. Learning through actual application is the perfect accompaniment to a classroom education.

If you want to know more about the United States Antarctic Program, please visit