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Monticue Travels to South Pole

BAILEY HEIT

COPY EDITOR

  What would you do if you had the opportunity to drop everything in your life and fulfill your lifelong dream? Physics teacher Valerie Monticue did exactly that when she received a phone call three weeks ago inviting her to go to
the South Pole.

   “Going to Antarctica has been a dream of mine ever since college when my senior thesis project was designing telescopes for Antarctica. That’s what I did in college for two years, and it is on my bucket list. It is literally the fruition of a life long dream,” Monticue said.

   Monticue left in early November and will return to Pinewood next semester.

  “I think for a scientist, it is the ultimate ‘I am jealous and I would love to do something like it.’ I think it would be a great experience to go somewhere where very few people have ever gone,” principal Mark Gardner said. “I think that’s almost like going to
the moon.”

   Two years ago, Monticue was accepted to partake in a research fellowship through the Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education at Stanford University. Over the past two summers, she has been helping Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology researchers prepare the telescope for Background Imaging of Cosmic
Extragalactic Polarization to be sent to Antarctica. Like any project, parts of BICEP3 require improvements, so she, along with the KIPAC team, are traveling to the South Pole to fix and remodel parts of it.

   “I had been joking about going for both the summers. Every time they said something like ‘We need more people down in the Pole,’ I said ‘I’d go! Take me!’” Monticue said. “I thought I was joking. Then at the end of the summer, they sat me down and said ‘Hey we want to take you to the Pole,’ and I thought they were joking.
But no!”

   Familiar with the moderate California weather, Monticue must take many cautionary steps in adjusting to the -20 degrees Fahrenheit weather and 12,000 foot altitude. She will wear twice as many layers as she would for a stormy day of skiing, and take high altitude medication to
prevent altitude sickness.

   With only a two-week notice, making sure she accomplished everything before her departure has not been an
easy task.

   “I have spent the past two weeks making a packing list, getting everything squared away, preparing for the substitute, finishing all my grading, preparing the students, and basically making sure that everything would be okay if I was not here for the end of the semester,”
Monticue said.

   Monticue expects that a day in the field will be very different than in the Stanford lab. Trekking from the housing
to the lab requires her to walk a mile in the freezing cold. Previously, she has only worked with her team on professional terms in the lab. Now, she has to be work, sleep, and eat with them for six weeks, so she is anxious to see if they will be able to bond socially as well.

   “There are many, many steps that require teams of people all working together and being able to get first hand
experience. Even when I’ve been working on teams, it hasn’t been the same as everyone having the same goal and working together quite like this,” Monticue said.

   What exactly is BICEP3 for? Its purpose is to observe cosmic microwave background radiation which is light that was left over from the big bang. Researchers are using it to understand more about the very beginning of
the universe.

   But, for her, traveling to the South Pole goes beyond just working on a telescope.

   “Ultimately, I am hoping to get good stories out of this because that is the foundation of life. That is what science is: telling stories that explain how the world works. Being able to tell this story will help people understand how science and engineering are intimately intertwined,”
Monticue said.

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