Expedition 1: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

If you’ve ever been on a camping trip, you know how much planning and preparation are involved. You might have experienced a time when you brought too much, or even worse, forgot something important. These oversights can impact your goals for the trip by affecting how you will accomplish them, and whether or not they can still be met.

Setting Goals

Kit and Charles must clearly define their goals, or criteria for the trip. “Criterion” (singular) is a term often used in engineering to define a measure for success. Our team will be successful if they meet criteria such as:

  • staying safe and healthy while in the field;
  • reaching their destinations;
  • collecting enough samples;
  • keeping their samples frozen;
  • and generating data from these samples to answer their research questions.

How will we increase our chance for success?

The task doesn’t end there. Now that its criteria for success are defined, the team needs to figure out how to meet them most efficiently. As observers, we have the luxury of imagining the best ways of accomplishing these goals. However, using jetpacks to get to the glacier and shipping the samples home overnight by drone may not be the most realistic options when it comes to the team’s available resources.

Things like time, money, people, equipment, and weather conditions are referred to as constraints in engineering. “Constraints” limit us to doing what we can with what we have. Unfortunately for Charles and Kit, the life of a field researcher is typically not one of luxury. Operating with limited resources means that careful planning is involved, as the room for mistakes is much smaller when you are 4,000 miles from home atop a glacier 19,000 feet above sea level. Since our team must hike long distances at such high elevations, and carry all of their equipment for a portion of the trip, the constraints are significant. An expedition like that of our research group is something that must truly be engineered.

Putting the pieces together

In order to meet the criteria while considering the constraints, Kit and Charles must revisit their research question: “How has the climate of Peru changed since the little ice age?” As Charles explains in the video, answering this question involves lots of smaller, but important questions that the team must answer in order to be well prepared.

Long before the first ice core is drilled, answers must be carefully considered to questions such as: What are we trying to find out?; What do we think our results might be?; What information will we need to use as evidence that can be used to evaluate our predictions?; Where will these data come from?; How much data do we need?; Where do we need to go?; What do we need to bring?; Will there be a porta-potty on the glacier?; Should I pack my bathing suit, or my snowsuit?; What will we eat?; How will we cook?; How many days will we need?; and How do we get the samples back home safely?

You, the scientist

In the process of planning and carrying out its investigation, the research team must use additional science and engineering practices. Charles and Kit have to think and act like engineers by defining problems and creating solutions in order to answer questions they have as scientists. You may begin to notice that in both your formal and informal science experiences, you too, are using multiple practices when planning and carrying out investigations.

What do you think?

Here are some questions to discuss with your class, or to investigate on your own!

  • Do we actually plan and carry out investigations like scientists in our daily lives?
  • What are some criteria and constraints that you have faced in recent investigations?
  • In what ways have you thought like a scientist lately? An engineer?
  • What are other ways that engineering is incorporated into the research team’s expedition?
  • Can you think of other things that Charles and Kit need to consider when planning their expedition? Why are they important?

Have more questions?

Submit your questions using the online form. The team will answer them in our next live tweetup!

Join Charles (@UmaineFARRodda) and Kit (@UmaineFARKit) live from Peru each Wednesday at 1:00 PM EST throughout their journey. (Archived UMaineFAR Live Chats)

Follow the adventure on Twitter (@UMaineFAR)!

Visit the Follow a Researcher® website.