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Launch Memories

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The International Polar Year has begun. What a week! With US and UK launches on the Monday stirring up media attention, followed by an event in Portugal on the Wednesday and over 20 more national events on the day itself, March 1st 2007, we definitely hit the news!

While traveling to Paris with Nicola, to prepare for the international launch, the phone didn’t stop ringing, both sides of the Channel Tunnel and even on the Paris subway system! I was contacted by journalists as diverse as New Zealand Radio, an In-flight magazine, BBC World Service, Vatican Radio, Al Jazeera English, an Italian science magazine, Chinese TV networks, and Scientific American to name a few. During the International Ceremony itself, my phone kept shaking, and afterwards, on a tour of Paris, I saw Ole Henrik Magga, of Sami University College, give an interview to his local paper about the IPY project Reindeer Herding and Climate Change.

Back at the Palais, Jose Xavier was giving back-to-back interviews in Portuguese and building connections with educators and journalists from Brazil.  Meanwhile, I was receiving texts about the success of launches around the world: thousands of children in Norway holding signs saying “Bring Back Winter” and “We Want Snow”, an IPY balloon being launched in Sweden while on the other side of the world, a research ship in Cape Town’s harbour was flying a huge fish-shaped IPY kite that had previously flown over Antarctica. In addition, messages from youth around the world, organized by the IPY Youth Steering Committee, were emailed and posted to their political leaders. The celebrations were diverse, exciting, momentous, and, most of all, fun. Science talks mixed with celebrity support, kids mixed with royalty, art exhibitions, museums, science centres, and film festivals holding events while palaces and parks had political opportunities to talk about the polar regions. IPY affects us all, because the polar regions affect us all, whether we live in the north or the south, or near the equator. The changing poles are an indicator of a changing planet.

The time and energy that people have invested in these events around the world has been astounding. And out of this, we have also established a number of effective and impressive global networks of press officers, journalists, scientists, teachers, youth, and polar enthusiasts that will continue to feed energy, ideas, and enthusiasm into IPY throughout its two year duration. The highlight of my week came at the end of an exhausting day, during an exhausting week. It was then that I looked at the ‘virtual balloon launch’.... a way that students around the world could get involved with IPY at home and in school by carrying out experiments with ice and launching a virtual balloon.

On the morning of March 1st (New Zealand time), we pulled a sneaky one on educators around the world and changed the tag necessary for the balloon to appear on the map! I apologize to you all who got confused by this but there were many ‘test’ balloons on the old map and we wanted to be sure these balloons were the real-thing! When I left my hotel in the morning, the world map had two balloons on it. When I returned at 7pm, kids in Asia, Australasia, and Europe had obviously been busy, and classrooms in North America were getting involved as their days began. It was like watching classrooms waking up in real-time! And what great comments: from the northern most primary school in the world to those in Tasmania, icy experiments marked the start of IPY.

The balloon launch was made possible with the help of Tagzania who, in support of our activity, changed their maps so that they could accommodate 200 balloons at one time! The good news is that we exceeded 200… but this has the unfortunate down-side that the early balloons have now disappeared from the map, being replaced by the most recent 200 launches. We will keep the map live throughout IPY and keep updating experiments and ideas for schools around the world to get involved with. The map is also a great assessment tool and shows the large areas of the world where we need to strengthen our networks: Asia, Africa, and South America. If you would like to stay in touch with these activities, please email me, , to be added to the educators mailing list and discussion group.

I write to you now from Germany, having yesterday attended the opening of an exhibition of Inuit Circumpolar Art (from the Cerny Collection) at the United Nations building in Geneva, opened by an incredible performance of throat singing by Olga Csonka-Ltykai. This was a great end to a day of roundtable discussions including not only Olga, from RAIPON: the Russian Association of Indigenous People’s of the North, Siberia, and Far East, but also representatives from several first nation and inuit northern communities in Canada as well as inuit art dealers, gallery owners, and politicians. This included a powerpoint presentation on genetics, in Inuktitut, by Moshi Kotierk. With my background as an atmospheric antarctic chemist, this really demonstrated the other side of the diversity and shared interests that IPY pulls together.

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Tomorrow I join Dave Carlson in the Netherlands for the last of this week’s national launch events, including a performance of Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies’s Antarctic Symphony in Groningen and a day of science talks in Leeuwarden. This is not the last of them though: I have recently heard of Polish and Russian national events scheduled in the next few months. There are also several regional events planned, such as the Boulder IceFest and EdVenture family night in Columbia which are happening this week and next. Below, I show a photo of Max Holmes, of the Student Partners Project at the opening event of their exhibition of art from children in Zhigansk, Siberia… the exhibition was held in the US but on the wall you see the live video feed to the Zhigansk School for the entire event, starting at 5am their time!

Thanks to all, from students to monarchs, who have helped make the launch of IPY memorable around the world.

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Photo credits:
Launching an IPY balloon in Sweden, Camilla Hansen
Throat-singing by O. Csonka-Letykai: Amanda Mackey
Student Partners Project: R. Max Holmes

Add A CommentComments

Andrei Batushkin, Mar 11th, 2007:

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Dear Friends!
Hello! It’s great to take part in this great event which unites millions of people. I’d like to introduce myself very briefly. I’m Andrei Batushkin and I’m a teacher and principal’s assistant at Zhigansk Secondary School which is located in the Northen part of the Sakha Republic, Russia. I’d like to express my gratitude to a great scientist and to a good man R. Max Holmes. He did much for Zhigansk and the most important he did much for all students of our School. Thank you, Max!
Also I’d like to say about the Student Partners Project. I think it’s really important to study the Arctic and the most essential is to bring up a well educated generation, I mean our children. As for me, the Arctic and children have something common. It’s our future, we won’t live without these imprescriptible parts which are very dear for all of us. I hope this Art Exhibition will help people to understand the unique Artic much better.
Thank you all for your attention. Good luck!

Your friend, Andrei

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