Dr. Andrade brings her scientific knowledge from Antarctica to King Street


Olivia Caponiti '23

Dr. Andrade spent a summer exploring and researching Antarctica.

How can people know that Antarctica exists if they have never actually been there?  Students Mr. John Martone, Upper School Math Specialist, has taught have heard this epistemological question that few people can answer.  Dr. Adriana Andrade, Upper School Science Teacher, however, can verify the continent’s existence.  She spent three months during college gaining real-world experience in Antarctica, studying all different types of science and collecting and analyzing data.  While she was studying to be a biological scientist, she examined how ecosystems work in a place with such a low climate temperature and how animals survive.

Dr. Andrade feeds a penguin. Courtesy of Dr. Adriana Andrade

 Dr. Andrade grew up in Brasília, Brazil, with a fascination for the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  She attended the University of Brasília for her undergraduate education, where she majored in biology.  The summer after her second year in college, Dr. Andrade participated in a country-wide contest that allowed students to spend a few months performing research in Antarctica with experienced scientists.  Students had to come up with a project proposal to pursue in Antarctica, go through a series of interviews to explain their plans, and find a mentor who could assist them along the way.  Only two students in Brazil got into the program and Dr. Andrade was one of them.  She was the first woman from her state to go and one of the first in all of Brazil.  Dr. Andrade explained the hardships she had to overcome to get into the program.

Dr. Andrade bonds with the group of Americans in her program.  Courtesy of Dr. Adriana Andrade

“I come from a place in Brazil, Brasília, that is right in the middle of the country, so the ocean is far away, and we didn’t have a Marine Biology Department in my undergraduate program at the university,” Dr. Andrade said.  “No one really wanted to be my mentor because they did not believe that I had enough background in the area to do the project, given that we did not have the department (they weren’t really experts either).  But I persisted.  I designed a project in Comparative Physiology, comparing polar animals that I don’t know anything about with animals from dry land that I know a lot about.  I was so excited to look at different animal adaptations.  So, that was a possibility, and it was great.”

Dr. Andrade lived in a cabin with a group of young scientists from Brazil.  Every week, they studied different fields of science, including biology, physiology, and geology, with scientists who focused on each one.  They examined the molecules penguins use to maintain their body heat and learned about ice fish that have anti-freezing proteins to adapt to their environment.  In their studies of the environment, they also compared rocks in Antarctica to those of other continents to gain further scientific knowledge on continental drift.  Dr. Andrade participated in collecting and analyzing data in all of these experiments.  She commented on how important this experience was for her in her career.

“It was an incredibly transformative experience for me,” Dr. Andrade said.  “I had gone to medical school for two years, and I was never certain if I should continue that trajectory or become a scientist.  This trip was right after I switched my major to biology, and from that point on, I knew I wanted to be a researcher.  Antarctica was definitely a turning point.”

Dr. Andrade immersed herself in the environment by feeding penguins, engaging with sea lions, and exploring the vast landscape.  In doing so, she experienced all different aspects of the continent in real-life and can confidently tell Mr. Martone about all of its wonders.  She discussed what she learned after spending time in Antarctica that others may not have.

Dr. Andrade takes a break from examining whale bones.  Courtesy Dr. Adriana Andrade

“A lot of people think that it is only absolutely cold because the temperature can drop to minus 80 degrees Celsius, but on a nice day when it’s not too windy, I used to take four-hour walking expeditions,” Dr. Andrade said.  “About every mile, there were huts with necessities like water, coffee, hot chocolate, and a place to rest.  We used to play soccer on the beach.  Also, people don’t know how hard it is to adjust to the 24 hours of light.  Your whole body takes time to adjust, so it’s very strange.”

As they adjusted to the harsh climates and environment, the group of scientists grew very close.  They lived near each other, worked together, and explored the continent in pods.  Dr. Andrade commented on how special these relationships were to her. 

“The coolest thing is the sense of community that created where we were,” Dr. Andrade said.  “It is amazing.  You feel that you are never going to separate from those people.  Some studies prove if you work hard in a very harsh place, struggling with the weather and your body and other factors, it really unites people in a special way.  I’ve stayed connected with them for a very long time now.  You become very protective.  Also, I love the international connections we made.”

Featured Image by Olivia Caponiti ’23