By Kou Yang
AAP contributing writer
Sydney, Australia (Nov. 18, 2016) — When Prayath Nantasin (Xyooj Yaj or Xiong Yang) steps on the ice of Antarctica on Dec. 17, 2016, he will make history as the first Hmong to not only step on Antarctica, but also to conduct scientific research there.
Nantasin, a doctor rerum naturalium (study of natural science) will remain in Antarctica conducting research until Feb. 26, 2017, when he and his team will leave Antarctica for Australia.
Nantasin will be listed as one of a few Thai scientists, who have conducted scientific study in Antarctica. In January 2014, two Thai female scientists from Chulalongkorn University did conduct research in Antarctica, but they are not the first. H.R.H. Princess H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (มหาจักรีสิรินธร), the third child of King Bhumipol Adulyadej (1927-2016) and Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara, became the first, when she studied geography and living species on New Zealand’s Scot Base in Antarctica from Nov. 18-24, 1993.
Nantasin’s eight scientist team includes Prof. Tomokazu Hokada and Prof. Yoishi Motoyoshi from the National Institue of Polar Research (NIPR), Prof. Sotaro Baba (University of Ryukyus, Japan), Prof. Atsushi Kamei (Shimae University, Japan), Ippei Kitano (PhD candidate of Kuyshu University, Japan), Dr. Nugroho Setiawan (Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia), and Davaa-ochir Dashbaatar (Mongolian University of Science and Technology).
The team will be led by Yasuhito Osanai, a professor from Kyushu University in Japan. The research project, funded by the National Institute of Polar Research, Japan, is known as Japanese Arctic Research Expedition 58 (JARE 58). In addition to the eight scientists, the expedition will include 67 persons, who will perform various tasks to support the scientists on their research activities.
All members of the team are scheduled to be present at Fremantle, Perth, Australia by Nov. 28-30, 2016. They will be on board the Shirase Ice Breaker on Nov. 30, 2016. After a brief orientation, the team will depart Fremantle for Antarctica by Dec. 2, 2016. Their vessel is scheduled to arrive at Antarctica around Dec. 17, 2016. They will conduct their respective research project until Feb. 25, and then leave Antarctica the next day. They are expected to arrive on March 20, 2017 at Sydney, Australia.
Nantasin is assigned to explore the high grade metamorphic rocks, or rocks that have been pressed under extreme temperature and pressure around 10-15 kbar and 500-900 Co. They hypothesize that these rocks are scientifically related to rock type found in Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka. If the predication is correct, then the conclusion can be made that Antarctica shares similar history with Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka. More importantly, data from this research will benefit future scientific research and other scientific endeavors.
Nantasin’s team will also do mapping and rock collection to take back to Japan for scientific analysis. After these rocks and other scientific specimens are analyzed in Japan, some samples will be sent to Thailand for Nantasin and his colleagues to study them. They will publish the result of their studies in peer-reviewed international journals.
Nantasin is an academic staff of Department of Earth Science, Faculty of Science at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thailand. He holds an MS in Geology (2000) from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, and a Ph.D. in Mineralogy and Petrology (2013) from the Institute of Earth Science, University of Graz, Austria.
Previously, Nantasin has involved with many research projects, including the below:
• 2015 and 2016 exploration of gems mining in Vietnam, and the Red River fault that runs from Tibet to the South China Sea
• 2014 exploration of ruby and sapphire mines in Sri Lanka
• 2013 exploration of gemstone resources of Mogok valley in Myanmar
• 2012-2013 to study geology in Qinling mountain belt, China. He joined other scientists from Northwest University, Xi’an, China, as part of his Ph.D. Dissertation Project
His other research projects including the Geological Survey of Thailand to clarify the age of metamorphic rock in Thailand.
Nantasin is a very productive researcher, and has authored and co-authored 14 peer-reviewed journal articles.
In June 2016, Professor Yasuhito Osanai recruited Nantasin to use his facilities at Kyushu University to analyze his scientific data. In the same year, he was recruited to the Polar Research Team of Thailand under the auspice of H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who is the first Thai to have been in Antarctica. Her resume indicates that she visited New Zealand’s Scot Base in Antarctica from November 18 to 24, 1993, to study the living species and geography of the South Pole.
Nantasin is a Hmong and his Hmong name is Xiong Yang, but his friend also call him Kub. His father is Ntxhoo Neeb Yang and his mother is Paiv Yang have 10 children (5 sons and 5 daughters). His family migrated from Laos to Thailand during the early years of the Secret War in Laos. The family crossed the Mekong River from the Laos side to Chiangrai in the Thai side in the 1960s, and has since call Thailand their home. In the late 1960s, the family moved from Chiangrai to Nan Province, where Prayath was born. He was born in 1977 in the village of Ban Tham Viang Kae (Tham ถ้ำ -means cave), Narai Luang Sub-district, Song Khaew District, Nan Province.
Since very young age, Nantasin said his parents told him that the only way he can have a better life is through education. His mother once said to him “you only spend time with me like my guest, you must move on.”
If he could choose at the time, Nantasin said his father would likely prefer to stay home and be like their other sons. But, he was sent to school and found his niche. He loves schooling and dedicates his life and work to his education. After high school, he passed the entrance examination to Chulalongkorn University, the oldest and the most prestigious university of Thailand.
For a Hmong boy to be admitted to Chulalongkorn is beyond dream, but there is a major barrier for him. He, like other poor ethnic minority student, did not have financial support. Although, Thai educational system provides financial support for K-12 students, there is no governmental scholarship for college students. Thus, the young Prayath must do whatever he could to support himself while attending Chulalongkorn University. He faced with an uphill battle; first, he must survive in the Metropolitan of Bangkok, secondly, he must adapt to university life and be among the elites, and third, he must support himself financially.
To survive, he attended classes during the day and work from the evening until midnight to earn money for his living expenses. After earning his Bachelor Degree from Chulalongkorn University, he was admitted to the master of science program in Geology, and the Thai Government provided him with a scholarship, which enabled him to commit his time and efforts to his education. Upon his completion of his MS in Geology in 2005, he was hired to teach at Kasetsart University. Three years later, he received scholarship from both Austrian Government and Kasetsart University to do his Ph.D. in Austria. He spent 3 and a half years to complete his Ph.D. program.
After earning his Ph.D., he returned to Kasetsart University, and resumed his teaching at Kasetsart University. Against all odds, he is not only survived, but managed to navigate through the education system in Thailand and Austria, and became one of only few Hmong in Thailand, who hold university teaching professorship. These Hmong Thai academics include, but not limit to: Dr. Prasith Leepreecha (Tsav Txhial Lis), University of Chiang Mai, and Dr. Pracha Yeunyonbgkul (Paaj Tsawb Yaj), Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna.
Unfortunately, Dr. Prayath Nantasin’s father passed away just a few months after Prayath earned his Ph.D. from Austria and returned to Thailand. It was just like he was only waiting to see his son returning home with a Ph.D.
When the Shirase Ice Breaker arrives in the South Pole on Dec. 17 this year, Prayath Nantasin or Xiong Yang will make history as the first Hmong to step on the continent of Antarctica. He will be also the first scientist of Hmong descent to conduct research on the South Pole. By the time Hmong worldwide celebrate their new year in December, and the Hmong in Chiang Mai gather together in Doi Pui on Jan. 1, 2017, Prof. Prayath Nantasin will be busy conducting his research and doing rock collection on the surface of the Antarctica, where the weather can be very cold and unpredictable. Winter in the United States is actually a summer in Antarctic, but it is still very cold there. And, he will have only Penguins and his research team as his friends while doing research on the South Pole. When he is out and arrived in Sydney in March, he will be welcome by the Hmong in Sydney, and it will be the first time since December for him to speak in Hmong.
Prayath Nantasin is married to Cherrin Nantasin (Ntxaiv Yang) and they have a daughter, named Khongkhuan Nantasin (Tshav Ntuj Yang). She was born in January 2016. She will be one year old and three months by the time her father returns home in March 2017 from the South Pole.
The author: Kou Yang, Ed.D., MSW. is professor emeritus of California State University, Stanislaus.