BIO5 Researcher Travels to 'Top of the World' to Pursue Dreams and Inspire Others
Many people dream of traveling to the North Pole or to the Amazon Jungle, but few ever make those dreams a reality.
Eliot Herman is one of the few.
"Landing on the ice cap at Barneo Ice Camp on a Russian STOL jet is something," said Herman, a professor of plant sciences and a member of the BIO5 Institute.
Beneath the 10-foot-thick ice cap is over 10,000 feet of water, and the ice is always moving – cracking open, colliding, making ridges. "We did have some delays, problems due to thinning and cracking of the runway ice."
It wasn't the increasingly fragile arctic environment or even his own renowned research that led Herman to board that Russian STOL jet.
So what motivated him to visit the North Pole? "I just wanted to go!"
Travel isn't out of character for Herman, who has been known to journey to distant places around the globe including Lake Turkana in Africa, the Ponoi River near Murmansk in Russia, and the Subatlantic islands in Antarctica.
"We are supposed to be inspiring others to have an aspiration to do something. This is what professors should be doing," Herman said. "It's not just in the classroom. Our lives should be inspiring to our students."
Herman himself draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including art, astronomy and his lifelong passion for salmon fishing. Many of the seemingly arbitrarily placed pins on his travel maps came out of his childhood dream to follow in the footsteps of an idol, baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Considered one of the greatest game fishermen in the world, Williams caught an Atlantic salmon of at least 20 pounds while fly-fishing.
Herman wanted to do the same. And he did.
Of course, his research in plant sciences – specifically in seed composition, soybean proteins and food allergens – has provided a reason to visit far-off destinations. Conversely, his travels also have acted as inspiration for his research. He attributes an idea that catalyzed studies on how to produce crops in nutrient-poor growing environments in relation to agriculture from a visit he took to the nitrogen-poor Amazon Jungle.
However, he says his personal adventures are often driven by something more ephemeral. Herman is a self-proclaimed "serious meteor photographer" and has more than one story to tell about chasing a rare solar eclipse in remote parts of the Earth. Herman admits that it's these certain "transcendental" experiences that he's ultimately seeking.
"At the North Pole, you are at the top of the world. Only you and a few other people are there at the top of the world with you, where all 24 time zones and two days crush together at one single point on the ice. It's transcendental," he said.
A health scare within the last year was another force motivating Herman to fulfill his childhood dream of visiting the North Pole.
"Last year at that time I was sick in the ICU – and when you're there and you have all these bad things happening to you, you think, 'You know, I'd like to get out of here,'" Herman said. "So, this year I made an arrangement to go there."
Herman plans to view a solar eclipse with his wife, Monica Schmidt – also a professor of plant science and a BIO5 member – in Chile in 2019 and in Argentina in 2020. He also is making plans for a trip to view an eclipse in Antarctica in 2021.
"There's a whole world of neat things to do," Herman said. "I'm just trying to do a few of them."