Ulyana’s infatuation with nature started at a very young age. At 6 years old, she saw mountains for the first time – the Swiss Alps – and was hooked. At age 12, she started dabbling in science fair projects, studying everything from junk mail accumulation, to UV radiation effects on t-shirt materials, to how to travel in space without fuel, using solar sails instead. Ulyana was able to mesh her interests in the outdoors and science as a geology major at Rice University. By the time she turned 23, she had traveled to and worked on all 7 continents. Through her twenties, Ulyana worked with National Geographic Student Expeditions as a geology/climate change instructor in Iceland, and the Girls on Ice program, as a glaciology/volcanology instructor on Mt. Baker, Washington and the Gulkana glacier, Alaska.
Ulyana crafted her PhD project on glacial lakes in the Himalaya through the guidance of Everest IMAX film director, Mr. David Breashears, and geophysicist, Dr. Roger Bilham. She funded her work through a combination of small grants and crowd fundraisers. During a Fulbright to Nepal, she was able to immerse herself in the culture and countryside, as well as grow a Sherpa-Scientist Initiative, to educate the locals on their changing climate. During her expeditions, Ulyana met many citizens interested in the science, who volunteered their time to aid her efforts. She enjoyed immersing the public in her work with fun events in the field, such as a glacier river rubber duck race and Glacier Olympics competition. Ulyana looks forward to bringing citizens along on expeditions in the Himalaya and beyond for truly immersive experiences!
1) When and why did you found Science in the Wild?
I officially founded Science in the Wild on January 1, 2016. The idea actually dates back to 2010, when I moved to Boulder, Colorado for graduate school. I wanted to create an outdoor adventure science school to bring science to the masses, but felt I needed more skills in research, the outdoors, and leadership. Going through graduate school for a Masters and PhD; co-leading student expeditions for National Geographic and Girls on Ice; living in Nepal for 10 months; leading multiple expeditions in the Himalaya; crowd-fundraising for my fieldwork; and earning my wilderness first responder certification gave me the confidence and solid foundation I needed to finally launch Science in the Wild.
2) What happens to the data you collect on your expeditions?
Some of the data get published in reports for the lay person; the majority will be used in peer-reviewed open-source publications. These are works-in-progress from the last two expeditions (Arctic and Himalaya in April – June 2016). We also are currently working on developing an online database presence for those who cannot join our expeditions so they can still explore the datasets, photos, and our field sites virtually. Again, a work-in-progress, but an important end goal for us.
3) What makes Boulder, Colorado the perfect base for Science in the Wild?
Boulder lies at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, around 5,400 ft. Peaks in my backyard climb up to nearly 9,000 ft. They are perfect training grounds for me to keep fit for leading expeditions and to host citizen-scientist participants for pre-expedition training. Boulder is also home to a powerhouse of research institutes and labs, which is great for building collaborations.
4) Are any expeditions relevant to space exploration?
Indeed, we have an upcoming trip to the Atacama desert in Chile – a great analog to Mars given the plethora of arid alien landscapes. We’ll be working with cool gadgets (you have to join the trip to find out!), spacesuit gloves, and doing some stargazing out in the remotes. If interested in joining, the dates are February 1 – 15, 2017, with more trip details posted on http://www.scienceinthewild.com/ojos-del-salado
5) Why were you trying on spacesuits this July?
I’m a scientist-astronaut candidate for Project PoSSUM, which stands for ‘Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere.’ This is a citizen science campaign to involve the public in research in the seldom-studied region of our atmosphere called the mesosphere. Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere found at over 50 miles above the surface. They are too high to be reached by aircraft or balloon but too low for orbiting spacecraft to measure. Hence the need for sub-orbital craft, capable of reaching supersonic speed to collect the necessary data to understand what role these clouds play in the global circulation of air. As climate has changed in recent years, these clouds have gotten brighter and can be seen closer to the equator – signs that all is not well in our upper atmosphere.
6) How many countries have you visited? How many peaks have you climbed?
I’ve been to 35 countries thus far and all 7 continents. As far as peaks, I’ve climbed dozens. The most memorable for me was Kilimanjaro in 2009, as it was my first of the 7 Summits and Africa was my final continent to visit.
In Colorado, I like to climb the less popular and less crowded 13ers (mountains above 13,000 ft.). They’re not the coveted 14ers (14,000 ft. peaks), but often times they’re more challenging, so I’m more interested in them.
7) I’ve heard that Mount Everest is becoming immensely popular, even for people who don’t climb. How touristy is the area now? How close can a non-climber get, and what might they do while waiting for the climbers in their party?
Indeed, the Khumbu Valley of Nepal is quite a popular trekking destination. There are teahouses to stay in – even coffee shops and pizza places. As a trekker, you can make it up to Everest base camp at 17,600 ft. In the off-season, there’s not much to see. But there’s definitely an energy to the place that you can feel. You can imagine that during the climbing season, it’s quite vibrant. What can you do while waiting? There are small hills around that you can climb to get better views of Everest (you can’t actually see the top of the peak from base camp). And I can take you in an inflatable kayak to explore glacial lakes. J
8) What are the top places you want to visit but haven’t yet?
Three M’s: Mongolia, Madagascar, and Malaysia. And Kyrgyzstan. I can’t wait to lead an epic Science in the Wild trip there!
9) Would you go to the moon or Mars if presented with the opportunity?
I love the Earth – its oceans, forests, and mountains. But I’m also constantly drawn to new places and new adventures. Exploration flows through my veins. So, yes, absolutely, I would go.
The ultimate places to visit in the outer Solar System though? That would be Europa and Pluto. I’m a bit obsessed with ice.
10) How does high altitude affect people? Are the Colorado Rockies different than other mountain ranges in this regard?
High altitude affects everyone differently. Some people acclimatize really well, others take longer. You can be really fit and still suffer from altitude sickness. My first time to Everest base camp, I was 22 years old. I was young, strong, fit and still felt the effects – rather potently since I ascended too quickly. Your body simply needs time to acclimatize (get used to the lower levels of oxygen) and you cannot rush it.
Since that initial experience, I’ve spent a lot of time at high altitude, including living at 15,000 ft. for week- and month-long stretches. Part of my training with Project PoSSUM last year included hypoxia awareness up to 22,000 feet in a high-altitude chamber. Despite “climbing” to this altitude within 20 minutes, I was still lucid and communicating with the crew, flying the simulated plane – perhaps from all the time I’ve spent up high or something genetic? The human body is truly incredible!
The Colorado Rockies are home to nearly 60 peaks over 14,000 ft. But they’re not significantly glaciated or as high as other mountain regions in the world (e.g., Himalaya, Andes, Alps). Comparatively, they’re easier to climb, but still demand respect.
11) What strange or interesting things have you experienced at high altitude?
Altitude does strange things to your mind. Never have I had such vivid and lucid dreams as I have up there. I’ve woken to nebulous dark figures standing over me; figures disappearing into walls; as well as experienced very calming presences while on difficult routes on peaks.
12) Would you ever take a vacation and just relax in man-made luxury for a week? Or must your travel all include nature and adventure?
Absolutely! Everyone needs to relax and recharge, and I’m no different. My favorite locale for this is Hawaii. Last time I was there I signed up to go snorkeling at night with the manta rays off the coast of Kona. It was an incredible experience. Ok, ok, and adventurous. I can’t help it!
13) Who shot first? Han or Greedo?
What kind of question is that? 😉 Han!
I met Ulyana through my Space Hipster friend Ron Sparkman. I caught up to her at The Space Foundation in Colorado Springs after Ulyana and Ron climbed the Manitou Incline. It also happened to be in the middle of a tornado watch! All in a day’s excitement.
She told me about her experience with attempted demon snuggling at high altitude in Nepal.