Antarctica is Filipino scientist’s laboratory

KD Suarez

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As Filipinos endure the summer heat, a Filipino-American scientist deals with months of darkness, sub-zero temperatures and isolation

WORKING IN THE COLD. Blaise Kuo Tiong checks on one of IceCube's equipment buried in the Antarctic ice. Photo courtesy of Blaise Kuo Tiong

MANILA, Philippines – As Filipinos endure the summer heat, a Filipino-American scientist deals with months of darkness, sub-zero temperatures and isolation.

KD Suarez reports.

This is Blaise Kuo Tiong, and welcome to his office.

Since November, Kuo Tiong has been working at the IceCube South Pole Neutrino Observatory, a research center located at the southernmost point of the planet.

The South Pole observatory uses a detector, buried deep in the ice, to study neutrinos.

These are nearly massless sub-atomic particles created as a result of radioactive decay.

Also called the earth’s most elusive particle, neutrinos give scientists an insight into cosmic events, including solar activity, supernovas and the big bang.

This helps us understand our Universe better.



What I do on a daily basis at Ice Cube is search for neutrinos. Our ‘tech’ needs to be running all the time, like 24/7…We have to keep it going pretty much all the time because we don’t wanna miss something that happens…So we have to keep the thing running, so me and my partner Felipe are basically on-call for the whole year to make sure the whole tech unit is run with data.

He is one of a total of 44 “winter-overs,” or scientists and support staff who stay to do research during the winter season at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

KUO TIONG: We have machinists, mechanics, cooks, a doctor and a physician-assistant. Pretty much everything we need to run like a small city.

Working at one of the coldest environments on the planet isn’t easy.

Isolated from the rest of humanity from February to November, they have to endure high altitudes, the lack of sunlight, blizzards, and freezing temperatures.

KUO TIONG: Your body naturally adapts to it. Actually the thing that affects most people is the altitude. We’re here at almost 12000 feet and the first thing when you get here is you can barely do your work because you’re short of breath. But gradually you get used to it and it’s not so bad.

To kill time, they have a range of options, from board games to movie nights.

KUO TIONG: Right now it’s too cold so most of the activities we do indoors. We have a big gym here where we can play a lot of sports. We spend a lot of time watching movies, video games or board games…Couple of weeks ago, I found some beans and made a sungka board.

Internet and satellite phones provide them links to the outside world.

KUO TIONG: The only thing is our connection is a little bit slow, so there’s a lag so I actually have to go to the satellite and back down. It’s limited because we only get about 14 hours of coverage a day.

Despite being so far away from civilization, Blaise says he loves the challenges brought by his stint at the South Pole.

KUO TIONG: For me it’s really exciting to work with these computers and being down here, the two of us who are down here are responsible for anything that happens predictable or unpredictable… There’s nobody here, you’re cut off to the rest of the world. I think everybody would say that that is the appeal, that’s why we’re here, because of that. You have to rely on your own, not on other people to solve situations that can come up.

KD Suarez, Rappler, Manila. –

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