Research at the Bottom of the World

Written by: 
Alyssa Yancey

When Kimmy Mighell (’11) set off on the more than 10-hour flight to Chile last winter, she wasn’t sure what to expect. What she got was a life-changing research experience that opened doors to an internship at the Chicago Field Museum.

Mighell was one of eight students awarded a National Science Foundation International Research Experiences for Students grant, which allowed her to spend three months conducting research at the Omora Ethnobotanical Park in Puerto Williams, Chile.

The park, which sits on an island just north of Antarctica, is the main site for research and educational programs associated with the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program coordinated by UNT in the United States and the University of Magallanes and the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity in Chile.

The program is developing innovative ways to address issues such as global ecological change and sustainable development. Every winter, a UNT study abroad course introduces students to the diverse Chilean ecosystem.

“The isolation there fostered a collaborative environment,” Mighell says, “and I made friends from around the globe.”

To explore the biological relationships in the Cape Horn Biosphere, she studied a moss species that uses flies to disperse its spores. She also spent three weeks on a crab boat surveying the non-vascular plant population around Puerto Williams.

The contacts she made there led to the internship at the Chicago Field Museum, where she has been working on a variety of projects, including helping with a new book on liverwort flora of Chile. The internship runs through the spring and she is applying to graduate school.

“Chile was really the perfect place to spend my final semester,” Mighell says.

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