Ipoh lecturer has been selected to join a 5-woman Malaysian expedition to the South Pole
The names of the four Malaysian female academics selected to join the expedition to the South Pole, were revealed, by the 53-year-old explorer Datin Paduka Sharifah Mazlina Syed Abdul Kadir, at a press conference in Putrajaya, on March 14.
When the name, Professor Aidylla S.O., was announced, shouts of jubilation accompanied by the waving of the Perak flag broke the quiet of the convention arena. The 37-year-old professor’s full name is Professor Aidylla Syed Omar, but she prefers to be called Professor Aidylla SO. She lectures in nutrition and dietetics, at the Universiti Sultan Azlan Shah, in Kuala Kangsar.
The five participants of this All Women Expedition to Antarctica (AWETA) Challenge 2018 have already been dubbed the Ice Maidens, by reporters covering the event.
In November, Sharifah will lead them, as they trek across the icy wilderness to plant a new National Transformation (TN50) time capsule, and conduct various experiments at the South Pole.
The Women Minister, Rohani Abdul Karim, who officiated at the event and presented trophies to the five women said, “These women are an inspiration to the nation. The new TN50 capsule incorporates the aspirations of various Malaysian women, including those from East Malaysia.
“Most important, is the message from the Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak, detailing Malaysia’s economic progress and scientific achievements in this millennium.
“The old time capsule which was planted in 2004, also by Sharifah, will be taken back to Malaysia and presented to the PM.”
Sharifah, who is a mentor for AWETA explained that the selection process had been especially difficult, as there were many worthy candidates from all over Malaysia, many of whom were brilliant, both physically and mentally.
A jubilant Professor Aidylla SO, who comes from Taman Meru in Ipoh, said, “Trials began last August and each participant had to pass every test. We were graded on our physical, mental, spiritual, emotional and social strength.
“We were warned that Antarctica is a challenging environment, and we will travel up to 27 miles a day, navigating crevasse fields, strong winds and must endure temperatures as low as minus 40°C. Sharifah said that we may spend five weeks on the ice continent, until we arrive at Hercules Inlet, on the western edge of Antarctica.”
Professor Aidylla SO added, “I was among the 30 who made the shortlist, from 1000 applicants who passed the test. We had to undergo 20 challenges, including 10 physical tests.
“One of the tests was to submerge our hands and feet in ice for 25 minutes, to learn to appreciate the freezing temperatures in Antarctica, that can fall to minus 68 degrees Celsius.”
Sharifah told reporters that her team would be monitored throughout the expedition to the South Pole, and that planting the TN50 capsule would take place in December.
She said, “The biggest challenge will be to unearth the old capsule.”
When asked if there would be any difficulty in locating the old capsule, she dismissed the reporter’s concerns and said, “I hope the capsule will be found, but if the capsule is damaged or cannot be found, I have a replica of the capsule, and only I know the message contained within it. The message was penned by the erstwhile prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.”
To cope with the adverse weather in Antarctica, Sharifah confirmed that a new TN50 capsule would have to be designed, with features that would withstand the extreme cold. She hinted that the Education Ministry would soon announce a competition to design the new South Pole TN50 capsule, and that the name of the winning designer would be engraved on it.
Sharifah is a former sports psychology lecturer at the Faculty of Sports Science and Recreation, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Shah Alam, and was the first Asian woman to reach both poles. She reached the South Pole in January 2004 and traversed the arctic north to arrive at the North Pole on April 17, 2007.
According to the Malaysian Book of Records, 2007, Sharifah is also the first Asian woman to successfully ski the Last Degree to the North Pole.
An excited Professor Aidylla SO said, “To prepare for her trek to the South Pole, Sharifah trained under a Norwegian coach, Ronnie Finnas, and underwent 10 days of intensive training, in Norway. The brutal regime meant that she had to rise at 6am, and complete endurance tests, risky rescue exercises, first-aid training and equipment familiarisation.
“She had to satisfy her coach that she was well prepared and confident of completing all the tasks. Often, she had only five hours of sleep per day and was pushed to her limits.
“AWETA will be sent to Norway, to train, and I hope that I will be as good, or even better, than Sharifah.”
Professor Aidylla SO added, “I look forward to the rescue training, on the glaciers, as I have never been on ice, before. I also hope that our team members will meet other polar explorers, like Liv Anersen, who was the first woman to trek solo from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole, in 1994.”
The AWETA Ice Maidens will start their endurance training in April, with daily three-hour sessions at a gym before they leave for Santiago, Chile, in late October. From there, they will proceed to the base camp, in Patriot Hills, where they will be flown to their starting point.
An excited Professor Aidylla SO said that she was looking forward to conducting some of the experiments that she had suggested as part of the selection process.
She said, “Antarctica is the coldest, driest and iciest of the continents. We will conduct an experiment on the effect of the magnetic poles on the making of roti canai and teh tarik at the South Pole.
“We will see if the cold and the earth’s magnetic forces affect the amount of froth produced in the teh tarik and the stretchability of the roti canai dough.
“I hope the experiments are successful because we will be cold and hungry by the time we reach the South Pole.”