INSIDE THE BURNS TELECOM CENTER, the team sat down at workstations linked to the Internet, and began to research life in extreme environments. At first they were looking for all kinds of information, just to see what was "out there" and what would be most interesting to them.

Some of the topics you can find under "life in extreme environments":

  • "Hyperthermophilic" life: single-cell organisms that prefer extremely hot environments (60 degrees C and above)
  • "Black smoker" oases: whole communities of sea life clustered around hot springs ("black smokers") on the deep-sea floor
  • Organisms that live on the rocks and under the ice in Antarctica's dry valleys, which may be an environment similar to the surface of Mars
  • Lake Vostok: a liquid-water lake four kilometers under the Antarctic ice cap, which may contain organisms that have been isolated from the rest of the earth for two million years. This environment may be similar to that found on Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter
  • Fungi which thrive in environments with pH near 0 (very acidic)
  • The controversial "deep hot biosphere" theory, which proposes that a vast number of organisms live deep in the earth's crust

As they surfed, the team discussed the material they found. Shannon, the team's teacher, opened up discussions about how to decide which topic to focus on for their presentation.

The team noticed that a lot of information was available on the microbes that thrive in the volcanic "hot pots" of Yellowstone. (Not surprising, because the university is near to Yellowstone.) They also learned that a scientist at Montana State University had been part of an Antarctic team that discovered organisms living in the ice in Antarctica's dry valleys, where temperatures never rise above 0 degrees F.

MORE: Touching Life Under The Ice