It’s not often that someone gets to travel to a place as beautiful as Iceland, and even more unique, study arctic microbiology; but this is exactly what I and a group of students and researchers from all around the world came to do for several weeks this summer. This course was designed to give students the opportunity to go beyond the labs and classrooms alone, and study microbiology in its natural environment.
In addition to gathering our own samples, we analyzed them to determine the characteristics of the microorganisms we found. In the unique climate if Iceland, we’d expect to find some equally unique organism. This is just another one of the reasons that studying microbiology in Iceland was such an incredible experience. My group(Astrobiology) were focused on finding organisms that were potentially similar to organisms that may be found on Mars. One thing our group learned is that even in even in a place as remote and inhospitable as the Icelandic dessert, a wide array of microbial life can not only live, but thrive.
Although the trips were rooted in studying microbiology, I learned from many of my experiences that were not explicitly part of the course. The Icelandic locals, and all the students studying abroad were incredible friendly and inviting. In general, I think the entire group had more in common with each other than we originally thought, and the group quickly meshed. Although we came from several different countries on several different continents, we watched a lot of the same movies, listened to a lot of the same music, and even had similar senses of humor.
Iceland was every bit as exciting as its sounds. Of all the places I’ve traveled, Iceland is perhaps the most picturesque. It seemed as if everywhere I went I found views worthy of being on a post card. In many ways, Iceland was far from what I expected. Our first day in Akureyri (a city in northern Iceland), I was astonished as I walked outside for the first time to realize that it was warm enough to wear shorts and a t-shirt. Yet, if you took a short drive away from the city, the wind and cold would have me putting on several layers. Needless to say, the variability in weather took some getting used to. The long daylight was also quite unusual and it and took me some time to adjust. I was expecting there would be some sort of blackout curtains to darken the bedrooms; however, this was certainly not the case. The food was also pretty interesting. I readily found some dishes that are also rather popular in the Unites States, such as pizza, burgers, fries, and hot dogs. In addition to those, I also ate lots of lamb, some dried fish, seagull, and even fermented shark.
Overall, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity filled with amazing experiences and memories. I felt challenged not only physically by the amount of work involved, but also intellectually by the degree of analysis required. I would encourage all students to experience a course like this, both the travelling and the course itself were beyond rewarding. I am already planning my return trip to the beautiful “Land of Fire and Ice”, although I think next time, I’ll have to pass on the fermented shark.
My video can be watched here.