Author Archives: williamcdaniels

Roni Horn Exhibit Opening Video

In January, I participated as a panelist during the Roni Horn art exhibit opening at the University Museum of Contemporary Art in Amherst, MA. Roni’s exhibit uses photography to examine themes of cyclicity and space in Iceland. For those that could not attend the opening, an edited version of the discussion panel is available here and at the UMCA website.

The panel discussion leads off with UMass geologist Julie Brigham-Grette speaking about the geologic history of Iceland. I follow Julie with discussion on the environmental and cultural history of the island.  Then, Roni shares a series of her writings pertaining to her time in Iceland.


NOVA: Polar Lab

Recently, I had the joy of working with NOVA and UMass Professor Julie Brigham-Grette to help develop NOVA’s new “Polar Lab“. This is one of a series of fantastic online teaching modules. Other topics include the Sun, Energy, Clouds, Evolution, RNA, and Cybersecurity. Each lab comes with a series of interspersed videos and video-game style activities, meant to introduce students to a variety of scientific topics.

The Polar Lab investigates how the Arctic climate has changed, both recently and in the geologic past. It starts with an exploration of the fossil assemblages and paleoenvironments of Ellesmere island. From there, users virtually travel to the National Lacustrine Core Facility (LacCore) at the University of Minnesota, to virtually analyze sediment cores collected in Siberia. View the demo below where students count fossil pollen grains and analyze changes in vegetation through time. I was a science advisor for this pollen module, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out. It might be the first paleolimnology video game ever!  In Polar Labs, after completing the sediment analysis at LacCore, the mission continues in Seattle, Colorado, Greenland, and beyond…

This teaching tool is appropriate for 6th-10th graders. In the days of Coronavirus, when online teaching and homeschooling seem to be the best options available, I encourage schoolteachers to take advantage of the NOVA Labs.

NOVA Labs Link

Artist Roni Horn to exhibit Arctic photography at UMass

Iceland Silhouette

On Thursday, January 30, I will be participating in a panel discussion on Iceland and the Arctic, as part of a reception for the art installation entitled Pi, by artist Roni Horn. The work and the reception will be hosted at the UMass Museum of Contemporary Art, and are open to the public.  Horn’s installation concerns the landscape of Iceland, and more details on the artist, the art, and the reception can be found in the attached news release. The exhibit will remain open from Jan. 30 to Apr. 26, 2020 at UMass.

Roni Horn Press Release

Life in an earth-bound space pod

Official crew photos for HERA Campaign 4 Mission 5. Photo Date: May 4, 2018. Location: Building 220 – HERA module. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

From May 5 to June 18, 2018, I lived inside an earth-bound NASA capsule known as HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog), which serves as a mission analog capsule for the Human Research Program. It was a bizarre, fascinating, fun, and educational 45 days. I’ve shared some posts about the lead-up to HERA as well as the egress ceremony.  Now I’d like to share about the in-between stuff – the food, the living, the science experiments. I’m sworn to secrecy on certain topics, but I think these pictures and blog give a good representation of LIFE IN A POD. As you look through the pictures, remember that all of these things happened in a tiny habitat, about the size of an RV (~600 square feet). We crammed a lot of activity into a small space.

If you are interested in learning more about HERA, please feel free to contact me or visit reading

UMass Geologists in Greenland

I’d be hard pressed to find a better way to decompress from my NASA-HERA mission than a field expedition to the Arctic. I went from 6 weeks in a 600 square foot pod to 2 weeks in the vast expanses of Greenland’s fjords and tundra. And it was wonderful. I’ll share some photos and experiences here.

A panoramic view of Sillisit and Tunulliarfik Fjord

From June 29 to July 11, 2018, I traveled with a research group from University of Massachusetts to South Greenland in a scientific campaign to calibrate paleoclimate proxies. The overarching goal of the project, which is led by UMass professors Isla Castañeda and Ray Bradley, is to test the hypothesis that climate change may have forced the exodus of Norse settlers from Greenland around the year 1450 AD. Sediment cores have already been collected, and our efforts this field season were to collect soil, sediment, and plant samples in order to improve our understanding of leaf wax and GDGT systematics in these Arctic systems. Continue reading

HERA Debrief

On June 18, 45 days after the launch of HERA XVII, our crew of 4 “returned to earth”. Our mission is complete, safely and successfully, and I’m happy to be home.

Re-entry goes like this: We spend the morning cleaning and organizing, doing inventory, making some last journal entries, snacking, and making ourselves presentable to the world. Basically, trying to stay busy to distract from the anticipation of our emergence. During midday, we shoot past the moon, firing our thrusters to adjust trajectory and make our final alignment with earth. About an hour before our expected water-landing, the 4 crewmembers gather in the Level 1 module to watch video footage of the re-entry. We are excited. I feel a bit nervous, not knowing what to expect when the door opens. The parachutes deploy, we hear wind, we wait. Shortly after splashdown, the fanfare begins, and the door opens to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever. To see that door open is a strange feeling, as if I forgot it was even possible that we could leave our cozy habitat. Continue reading