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Professor Kathy Kasic takes a quick break from capturing images in Antarctica, where she was part of a research team searching for signs of life in the depths below the Whillans Ice Plain. Photo by Billy Collins
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Kasic’s Antarctic foray yields artist’s dreamscape – and great science


Ahmed V. Ortiz

“I couldn’t do straight science, it just wasn’t in me.”

Kathy Kasic’s brain wages a bilateral battle for dominance.

The logic-leaning left has been fascinated since childhood by microbes. Kasic, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies, eventually followed the left brain to a bachelor’s degree in integrative biology and a master’s in evolution, ecology and behavior, both from the University of Texas, Austin.

The right brain, however, still stirred. Loudly. Even as a STEM student, Kasic dabbled in Photoshop, ceramics and photography. She eventually earned a postgraduate degree in science and natural history filmmaking from Montana State University.

“I couldn’t do straight science,” she says. “It just wasn’t in me.”

Kasic has forged an intellectual armistice, combining her passions on an Antarctic expedition during December and January. Kasic was a principal investigator with a team of roughly 50 people who spent about six weeks probing sub-Antarctic Mercer Lake, searching for signs of life 1,100 meters below the frozen surface. The work, funded by a grant secured with John Priscu, Montana State’s chief scientist, when she was a professor at that university, was part of the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) project. SALSA seeks to further the limited understanding of how organisms survive in extreme environments and how life and climate interrelate.

“It’s also about understanding the ice sheet and the movement (several meters daily) of the ice sheet dynamics,” Kasic says.

A director/cinematographer whose work has been featured at international festivals and broadcast on BBC, Discovery, PBS and National Geographic, Kasic was the expedition’s documentarian.

Curiosity, she believes, drives both art and science. Kasic wonders about “what lengths we’ll go to try to figure out things that make us curious about our world and about ourselves.”

Born in England but raised from age 7 in Dallas, Kasic had studied frogs in the Amazon and camped in the Costa Rican tropical forest. But Antarctica truly was a world apart. Skua, a type of predatory bird, were the only nonhuman living things she saw. The record 35-day government shutdown was little more than rumor. Eminent potential whiteout conditions made free-range exploration perilous and inadvisable.

But she had to explore, for art’s sake. Kasic, who estimates she took 600 pounds of gear, made a few cautious forays away from camp to capture sound and dramatic scapes for her preferred method of filmmaking, which she called “sensory verite” – capturing life unfolding naturally.

She filmed and recorded sound for an hour-long documentary that she estimates will be done sometime next spring. In addition, the expedition will yield four short films. A photo tour will follow sometime in the future. Also yielded will be K-12 learning modules, aimed primarily at junior high school students, which will reside on the PBS website and be downloadable.

“If you can tell a story about science that shows the humanity of it, then I think people might be able to engage with it better,” Kasic says. “To be part of that environment was very inspiring.”


Ahmed V. Ortiz


Ahmed V. Ortiz is a writer/editor, working at Sac State since 2011, after a 13-year newspaper career. He is an avid cyclist, enjoys traveling and loves animals and most sports, especially baseball. Ahmed believes in doing no harm and that love is the only way.