August 26, 2002 11:00 pm
Christine Noell ().
Christine Noell ().

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Classes at Elgin High School do not begin for a week, but Christine Noell's senior year is already off to a hot and unforgettable start.

Noell received the experience of a lifetime when she attended the Biosphere 2 Summer Program near Tucson, Ariz., July 21 to Aug. 16.

Participants in the program explored the Sonora Desert, the Grand Canyon and studied astronomy, insects and much more.

They also discovered how scientists are learning more about the environment through biomes, which are special enclosed structures.

Noell will apply the work she did at Biosphere 2 toward her senior project at Elgin High School. All EHS students must complete a senior project before they can graduate.

"I'm glad that I have already have a lot of my work done,'' said Noel, who gave a presentation about her Biosphere 2 experience on Monday at Twin Firs Retirement Center.

At Biosphere 2, scientists study a variety of mini-environments in biomes. Each biome is a simulated environment for an ecological region. The biomes Noell visited included ones for ocean and rain forest environments.

Biosphere 2 is helping scientists measure how ecosystems are affected by foreign elements such as pollution.

Plant life in the biomes thrived but Noell was struck by the absence of major animals in them. She said they were too small to support major animal life.

Noell spent much of her time with a group of 26 students. Many were from other countries including China and the Dominican Republic.

Working with students from different countries was one of the many enlightening parts of the experience.

"It was a lot of fun. It opened my eyes to different cultures,'' said Noell, the daughter of Gary and Nancy Noell of Elgin.

Biosphere 2 is 25 miles northeast of Tucson. The center has been used by Columbia University since the mid-1990s.

Noell and her group spent a considerable amount of time in the Sonora Desert and the Grand Canyon.

One of Noell's most enjoyable experiences was a one-mile hike in a lava tube. The temperature in the cave is 42 degrees, a marked contrast to the sweltering weather outside at the time.

"It had a low ceiling and did not echo,'' Noell said.

Students also visited the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. It is one of the largest privately operated non-profit astronomical research observatories in the


Founded in 1894, this is the observatory from where the planet Pluto was discovered in 1930.

Astronomy projects students had to complete involved evaluating the composition of stars they saw at places like Lowell Observatory. Students were asked to pick out a rock and determine its composition. Then they had to find stars in which those elements could be found.

Students were often up to 1 or 2 a.m. completing Biosphere 2 projects. Time passed quickly because of the exciting and encoura- ging atmosphere that was provided for the students.

"The teachers were always there for you,'' Noell said.

The Elgin senior rates the experience as one of the most memorable of her life.

"I would do it again in a heartbeat,'' Noell said.