Vancouver scientist 1 of 80 picked for Antarctic expedition

A Vancouver scientist will be joining an all-female team to Antarctica to tackle climate change and environmental issues.

Program chose leading women in science from across the globe

Sylvia Struck was chosen as one of 80 women worldwide who will journey to Antarctica this winter. ( Genevieve Milord )

A Vancouver scientist has been chosen as one of 80 women worldwide for an expedition to Antarctica.

Sylvia Struck, who manages the drinking water program for the First Nations Health Authority, will join the all-female group of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) specialists to address climate change on the icy continent.

"We will be learning about climate change firsthand and speaking with researchers," Struck said.

Struck was chosen by international organization Homeward Bound, which aims to develop female leadership on scientific and environmental issues.

"Antarctica is a very important region, where we're seeing changes in the environment at a rapid rate," said Struck.

As the group prepares for the trip over the next year, it will be connecting with each other through video chats and phone calls. 

During the 22-day journey to various areas of Antarctica, participants will have additional training aimed at developing their communication and advocacy skills.

Struck says the group will perform most if its work from the vessel itself under the watchful eye of the researchers and academics training them, as well as sharing knowledge from their own fields of expertise. They will also be able to venture out onto the continent for brief periods.

Struck will be part of the second group to go to  Antarctica — the 2016 team of 76 women was the largest ever female-only expedition to the continent. Over the next decade, Homeward Bound aims to send a total of 1,000 women on this journey.

Climate change on the coldest continent

Struck is an environmental engineer, but her interest in water issues led her to earn a Ph.D in public health. She also wants to see more women in the STEMM field. So, when the opportunity to go to Antarctica with other female scientists crossed her desk, she jumped on it.

"It's a place where we are seeing the impacts of human activity on a global level," Struck said. She believes that studying in Antarctica will be essential to understanding climate change. 

As an expert on water issues, Struck is also excited to share her knowledge from working with Indigenous communities in British Columbia and local communities in Uganda.

"Bringing awareness to water and the importance of water, also the fact that it's a critical resource," said Struck. "There is no alternative to water."

Challenges for women in STEMM

Struck hopes this program will help more women gain leadership positions in the STEMM fields.

For Struck, her love of science began at home — her father was a scientist recruited by NASA in the 1950s, and her sister went on to study medicine. But when she decided to pursue science at the university level, she was surprised to see few women like her  in the field. 

"When I started my undergraduate course in chemical engineering, I immediately looked around and saw the few number of women," she said. "Once I entered the engineering field, there were fewer and fewer women, particularly at the higher levels, if they were represented at all.

She believes that having women in leadership positions will benefit younger generations.

"That's part of being visible in science. You create opportunities for others when they start to see women in leadership positions, and they see it more as an opportunity than as a barrier," Struck said.

Connecting with home

While away on the remote continent, Struck is excited to share the experience with her supporters at home.

"I want to see how I can bring people along the journey with me," said Struck, either virtually or through storytelling. I definitely want to share my experiences."