Few people would volunteer to live at the bottom of the world.
Jill Mikucki, an assistant professor of microbiology, has traveled to Antarctica 10 times in the name of science, and plans to go for an 11th in the near future.
At Friday's weekly UT Science Forum in Thompson-Boling Arena, Mikucki gave a lecture about her work in the Antarctic region.
Describing herself as a "microbial ecologist," Mikucki's work focuses on the type of life to be found in Antarctica, particularly the microorganisms in the continent's hundreds of sub-glacial lakes.
These lakes, estimated to number nearly 400, have been cut off from the rest of the world for several million years. Most likely, any organisms residing in the lakes would have evolved during this period, becoming very different from any other species known on the planet.
"So now with the advanced tools of remote sensing, we're able to look below or look through the ice, and what we're starting to find is that there is numerous lakes, rivers, marshes, et cetera, that exist below the ice sheet and it's starting to reveal this really unique world," Mikucki said.
While Mikucki's presentation focused on her work studying microorganisms, she made time to acknowledge the immense challenge of bringing a laboratory and crew to Antarctica for an extended period of time, noting that everything they brought in had to be carried out as well.
When talking about the potential for life under the ice, she remarks that it is not just possible, but likely.
"You've got basically all the elements you need for life, you've got liquid water, you've got bedrock, and past ecosystems that can provide nutrients," Mikucki said. "There's the potential for a diverse habitat."
Contrary to initial perceptions, Antarctica holds massive potential for life, just under a half mile of ice.
"Something that's interesting is that we're starting to realize is that this sub-Glacial Whillans ice plain is a wetland the size of Manhattan. ... It just kind of changes the way you think about things," she said.
With Mikucki as the most recent researcher to participate in the Forum, Amanda Womac, president of the UT Science Forum, said the organization strives to pick scientists who are currently doing groundbreaking research.
"We had a pretty good mix of students and UT staff and faculty as well as community members here today, which is really good news to see," Womac said. "A bunch of people, both UT's community and Knoxville community engaged in and interested in what science is going on here."