Documentary features alumnus’s scientific journey

Documentary features alumnus’s scientific journey
February 10 10:50 2017 Print This Article

By ALYSSA FANARA Executive Reporter at

When one Ph.D. student’s research brought him to the valleys of Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, he embarked on a journey that could be described best as cinematic.

Purdue alumnus Robin Blomdin was a master’s degree candidate in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences when he joined a large international research project called the Central Asia Paleoglaciology Project. Leading a small team halfway across the world, Blomdin traveled to two large mountain ranges: the Altai Mountains and the Tian Shan. Here, the team hoped to figure out how large the glaciers that persisted in the area were during the last Ice Age, while also collecting more evidence on the glaciers’ patterns of expansion and recession.

“These are important questions,” Blomdin said. “First, we don’t know so much about glacial history in Central Asia, unlike North America and Europe where we know how the last Ice Age functioned and how it related to climate change.”

The team relied on geological mapping and cosmogenic dating to characterize the valleys and acquire the age of collected samples.

“We can use (cosmogenic dating) to get an age of the boulders and sediments, which were formed by glaciers,” Blomdin said. “The idea is that we can collect these samples from a boulder, and we’re assuming that once the glacier retreated from the boulder, it starts accumulating cosmogenic nuclides. We measured these concentrations and can relate them to the exposure time of the boulder, and we’ll get an age of when the glacier retreated.”

For first-time cinematographer Adam Stjärnljus, the story of an individual’s transition from student to scientist was something worth sharing. Stjärnljus’s two-person film crew accompanied Blomdin through the Altai and Tian Shun regions, collecting footage as Blomdin collected data.

Although the landscape was picturesque, it proved to be a challenging filming environment, with high altitudes, fluctuating weather and the film crew’s lack of electricity for most of the trip. However, Stjärnljus came prepared for these conditions. The final product of the team’s endeavor, “Through the Valleys,” captures the beauty of this remote area while also providing insight into the budding career of a scientist.

“Personally, I like documentaries where you get an insight into someone else’s life, which you would never have had an insight into,” Stjärnljus said. “I hope people enjoy the film where they can follow the life of an aspiring researcher. If it can inspire someone to choose a career in science, I would be very happy.”

A screening of “Through the Valleys” will be held at 7 p.m. this Friday in Stanley Coulter, Room 239. The documentary can also be rented or purchased at

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