When most people head to Antarctica, the first thing they look for are penguins. Sam Bowser, however, has other things on his mind.
A research scientist at the state Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center in Albany, Bowser has been to Antarctica at least 20 times, and lately his visits have involved looking for a single-celled animal he calls a tree foram. These Foraminifera, as they are also called, live under the water at the ocean bottom and have a secret that Bowser feels could be of great benefit to mankind.
Anyone interested in Bowser’s dips into the frigid ocean water deep in the Southern Hemisphere might want to take in “Conversations from Antarctica,” a series of lectures by scientists and climate experts being held Saturday and Sunday from 1-4 p.m. at Proctors GE Theatre.
Bowser is one of distinguished experts in the field scheduled to speak. The theme of the two-day Proctors event is “Global Climate Change: the View from Antarctica.”
“I’m going to talk about a single-cell organism that picks up sand grains and glues them together to form a tree at the bottom of the ocean,” said Bowser, referring to the tree foram. “We obviously haven’t looked all over the ocean floor, but so far Antarctica is the only place we’ve found these, and if that’s the case it is an endangered species.
“We don’t normally think of single-celled organisms as endangered species like we might whales or seals or penguins, but the tree foram could yield significant health and medical benefits,” he said. “Here we have a simple creature that can secrete a remarkable glue that works underwater. Maybe, in the future, it will help us solve a whole host of binding problems in watery environments.”
Bowser said this weekend’s event is a unique one.
“Certainly, any time you have an opportunity to meet with your colleagues in the same field, it’s great, and any time a scientist has a chance to stand up on a platform and talk about their research, it’s a thrill,” said Bowser.
“I’ve never been to an event like this before, but I think everyone will realize they’re talking to a general audience. What I’m talking about will not be over the head of anyone. I hope it will be interesting to them.”
Proctors’ CEO Philip Morris said the event was conceived after numerous conversations with members of the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard in Glenville.
“Here we have a group that travels to Antarctica on a regular basis, so with their help we were able to contact the National Science Foundation and line up some speakers,” said Morris. “We got a great response, and I think the average Joe is going to be able to sit in and enjoy the programs. It’s definitely aimed at the general population.”
While the event is open to the public free of charge, there will be a viewing of the movie “Encounter at the End of the World” by Werner Herzog at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission to the movie is $3 for those attending the seminar and $6 for the general public.
Among the other scheduled speakers are Karl Kreutz, associate professor at the University of Maine; Mary Albert, senior research engineer with the U.S. Army and a professor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth; Audrey Huerta of Central Washington University; and Robin Bell, Doherty Senior Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University.