So you want to explore the deepest caves? Design the cars of the future? Fire rockets? Don’t wait until you graduate. Here are 10 college programs that offer the most fun per credit—and can help you land your ideal job.
Where: Barton Lab, Northern Kentucky University
What You’ll Learn: How microbes thrive in harsh environments
Job Prospects: Geologist
Typical Assignment: Explore a 10-mile-long cave and capture the exotic creatures that live deep inside
If you want to be one of the six lucky undergrads to get off the waiting list and into Hazel Barton’s course, you’d better like tight spaces, heights, the dark, bats and getting dirty—and that’s just to get to the bacteria. Unlike microbiology majors at other schools, the ones laboring over microscopes and petri dishes all day, Barton’s students study extremophile microbes where they thrive: caves.
This fall, with NASA assistance, Barton and a select few students will explore the longest quartzite cave on the planet, a rare 10-mile-long labyrinth of pink and amber sandstone on Venezuela’s Roraima plateau. It teems with microbes that researchers think could provide clues to what life might look like on Mars.
Most caves are formed by limestone, a carbonate rock. The rock of Roraima, however, is mostly silicate, which is also found on Mars. The team will collect the nitrogen-eating, ammonia-spewing
microbes and other strange organisms that live in the walls. Back at the lab, students will observe the bacteria’s behavior under varying conditions, gathering information that could help NASA hone its search for extraterrestrial life.
Other students, like sophomore and newbie spelunker Katarina Schneider, cave closer to home, measuring groundwater pollution and studying links between microbes and cave formations. “Exploring that far below the earth surrounded by bats, beautiful rock formations and billions of organisms that you can’t see but you know are there,” she says—“that’s awesome.”single page