Not many people can say that they have visited the South Pole, but Pinewood physics teacher Val Monticue can. She describes the experience as an unforgettable one, filled with science, engineering, and interesting people.
Monticue was needed to fix the BICEP3 telescope, which is being used to determine what happened in the first few fractions of a second after the Big Bang.
Monticue spent the last couple summers preparing the telescope for Background Imaging of Cosmic
Extragalactic Polarization to be sent to Antarctica. Like any project, parts of BICEP3 required improvements, so she and a team traveled to the South Pole to fix and remodel parts of it.
Monticue stayed in a base that was 55,000 square feet large. It housed over 150 people, mostly composed of support staff. She stayed in a single room that was eight by ten feet.
“It was very small. Very snug and cozy,” Monticue said.
During her stay at the South Pole, Monticue met a variety of people from across the country, and not all were just scientists on her particular mission.
About 20 to 25 percent of people at her base were support staff, one of which was “Mike the plumber,” who got his job off of Craigslist and gave her a tour of the ice caves.
“We didn’t trade addresses and promise to keep in touch or anything like that. Most friendships there seem to be strong, but fleeting,” Monticue said. “You connect with someone, but you understand that there is limited time, so you have to enjoy the time that you have because I’m probably never going to see them again in my life.”
Although Monticue had an unforgettable experience in the South Pole, she is happy to be back as the physics teacher at Pinewood.
“What I want to do with my life is teach high school physics,” Monticue said. “I already have my dream career.”