Iowa State University

News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777


McMurdo Station

McMurdo Station is built on the volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island.


Josh Reed, Iowa State student,

Dan Kuester, News Service, (515) 294-0704,

Iowa State student and his new computer program go south

AMES, Iowa -- For computer programmer Joshua Reed, the first real, full-scale test of his new program was met with a chilly reception.

So cold, in fact, that the temperature was down to around minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

That is exactly what Reed was hoping for.

Reed is in Antarctica.

He is part of an international project, ANDRILL, that includes more than 200 scientists, students and educators from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and New Zealand.

ANDRILL (Antarctic geological drilling) is an effort to examine environmental changes in the region. Much of the research involves drilling holes in the surface and charting the core samples they retrieve.

That is were Reed comes in.

His computer program, PSICAT, is designed to help sedimentologists map those core samples that, until Reed's program, had to be drawn by hand and later entered into a computer using graphic software.

PSICAT (Paleontological Stratigraphic Interval Construction and Analysis Tool) allows researchers to input core descriptions and also store the underlying information, such as the depths of sand, ore, mud, fossils or other material was found.

"Sedimentologists have been drawing core description diagrams for a long time," wrote Reed in an e-mail from Antarctica. "And various tools exist to help with the creation of these diagrams, but none seem to quite solve the problem completely.

"Since I enjoy working on challenging, real-world problems and since I thought I could do better than the current solutions that existed, I decided to write PSICAT."

Reed, a master's student in Human and Computer Interaction from Rochester, Minn., signed on for ANDRILL at the suggestion of Cinzia Cervato, Reed's advisor and associate professor in the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Studies.

Cervato is a consulting scientist to ANDRILL and when she heard at a recent ANDRILL conference that the scientists were logging core samples with an old program, she thought Iowa State University could help.

"It seemed like a huge waste of resources," said Cervato. "I thought that we could develop a software tool to do the same but store the information as data. I thought that Josh was perfect for the project. I had worked with him for a couple of years already and knew that he was a great coder."

For Reed, the process of writing the PSICAT program that he would take to Antarctica would take a year and a half, including meetings with sedimentologists, gathering requirements and writing code for the program.

Reed thinks there will be other uses for his program.

"Although PSICAT was designed for ANDRILL, there was a lot of careful designing to make sure it could easily be adapted to other coring projects," said Reed.

Through early January 2007, Reed will be experiencing summer in Antarctica with temperatures in the 15-25 degree Fahrenheit range with wind chills around zero. When Reed did his mandatory survival training spending a night outside, temperatures were around minus 40 degrees with the wind chill factor included.

For most of Reed's days, though, he is inside working -- 14 hours a day for 7 days a week -- so the "temperature isn't too bad because you're only out for a couple minutes at a time" walking from work to eat to sleep, he said.

When Reed isn't working, he is often "blogging" his adventures on his Web log. Keep up with him at


Joshua Reed

Josh Reed builds his snow trench during survival training.

Quick look

ISU graduate student Joshua Reed is in Antarctica taking part in an international project studying environmental changes in the region. The computer programmer is helping to map core samples electronically with a program he created.

Blogging from Antarctica

Check up on Josh by reading his Josh in Antarctica blog.