Gallagher team studying caterpillars in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Gallagher team studying caterpillars in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Gallagher 8th-grader Lilly Ford and science teacher Lisa Carter headed to the Sierra Nevada Mountains this week to study the effects of climate change on caterpillars. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – A Gallagher Middle School teacher and student have traveled from the snowy landscapes of New England to the snowcapped mountains of the Sierra Nevada to study caterpillars and climate change through JASON Learning’s Argonaut Program.

GMS 8th-grader Lilly Ford and Gallagher science teacher Lisa Carter flew out to Reno, Nevada, on Sunday, March 10, and will return from the trip on Saturday, March 16.

The pair will be the second team from GMS to join a science expedition through JASON Learning, a nonprofit that provides K-12 STEM curricula. Last year, student Abigail Marsella and science teacher Jane Ramos traveled to the Amazon rainforest to study bees and the rainforest ecosystem.

At a send-off assembly at the middle school on Wednesday, March 6, Ramos wished the pair luck on the “trip of a lifetime” and offered some guidance.

“It’s like a ‘Survivor’ experience. Every day you don’t know what you’ll be getting yourself into,” Ramos said.

Ford said she decided to apply for an expedition after hearing of her friend Marsella’s experience in the Amazon.

GMS has worked closely with JASON Learning over the years, and is guaranteed a team of “Argonauts” from the school would be included in the annual expeditions.

Ford said the application process was long, and she was amazed to learn she was selected.

“I’m excited to learn new things and meet new people,” she said. She has always loved science, and added that she found caterpillars to be interesting.

The pair will join five other students, including another student from Rhode Island, and two other teachers for the week-long trip.

Carter said the pair will be working in the high desert to look at parasitoids, such as flies or wasps, that lay eggs in caterpillars and butterflies and guessed that they will split their time between lab work and fieldwork.

“We have no idea what they have planned for us. Everything else is a surprise,” Carter said.

Based at Earthwatch Institute, a worldwide scientific field research and education organization, Carter said they will study the effect that climate change has on the relationship between caterpillars and parasitoids.

Though neither were thrilled about parasites, Ford recalled learning about butterflies while in Carter’s 5th-grade science class.

“We grew them from eggs to cocoon until the butterflies hatched. It was really cool to see,” Ford said.

Carter said she will be able to use social media and more easily access the internet to share the experience with GMS students.

“Social media is very important on this trip. I want to get the students talking about this before we even get back,” Carter said.

Carter said she has enjoyed traveling in the past, and has visited places like Paris and Israel. She said the Sierra Nevada Mountains are an expansive range, and she is looking forward to seeing the types of rock formations.

“I’m hoping to see some of the natural animals around Nevada, possibly prey birds that will stand out against the snow,” she said.