Twelve years ago, a Nat Hab polar bear trip inspired an award-winning Manhattan designer to dedicate her life to years of polar bear research leading to the creation of the world’s most comprehensive interactive polar bear almanac for students.  The eBook is finally coming to fruition this year with the launch of their Kickstarter campaign!  Read the exciting story in this guest post by Marta Ruliffson, creator of this innovative “polar-bear-o-pedia.”

Boarding the plane to Churchill. © Marta Ruliffson

By Marta Ruliffson

My first experience with Natural Habitat Adventures started out as pure happenstance, a very arbitrary decision. And ended up changing the course of my life.

I traveled to the Arctic for the first time in late October of 2001 because I felt the cry of “And Now for Something Completely Different”.  I had been a 1st responder during the 9/11 attacks and I lived and worked within the evacuation zone for many weeks after the incident, so I needed to get away. Really far away from buildings and cement and all things man-made. The Land of the Polar Bears seemed about as different from Lower Manhattan as one could get.

Churchill was a sweepingly beautiful land that had not been affected by the spoils of man. The night sky lit up with wavering undulating waves of green, blue and touches of red. The Aurora Borealis! The Northern Lights! Not like in the pictures (they appear flat), but all around you, engulfing you, like a warm, comforting blanket.

The polar bears come to Churchill to await the formation of the sea ice. It’s like watching a hockey team form. Although they often slept to conserve energy, they were also getting pretty impatient.  I saw them play-wrestle (spar) with each other, or curiously walk right over to our tundra buggy, stand up on their hind legs, and poke their noses right in at the windows of our vehicle.When I returned to the US, everything felt different. I began to study everything I could about these Arctic beasts.

The following year, I booked another trip to Churchill with Nat Hab because I had to get back to the bears and all things Arctic. I brought two colleagues with me the second time, and arranged to stay on in Churchill on my own for nearly a week longer to continue my research.  I took two more trips to Churchill, once in February of 2003 to deliver a huge set of my science textbooks to the Churchill Elementary School and the following year just to visit friends, photographers, science researchers and continue my own research.  I was always a science geek and this was an obsession. You should see all the polar bear stuff that I accumulated during those years.

I’m a designer and science content developer by trade, and I’ve created a number of fun, accessible science books and magazines. Over this last decade I have worked to develop a truly engaging Polar Bear science book.  Even though I had the polar bear knowledge, the artistic know-how, and the resources to create a really fun, comprehensive book, I could just never take the concepts further, because a print format just didn’t seem to present the engaging subject matter with the vision I had in mind.

Earlier this year, I teamed up with Chuck Carter, who is a 3D illustrator for Nat Geo, Scientific American, NASA, and Hollywood. He worked on Myst years ago. He and I decided to bring this book to life as an interactive visual almanac, with animations, arcade games, and music. But behind the scenes is lot of in-depth science. Newton, Pascal, Bernoulli, Tyson, Ian Sterling—you’ll see how the scientific theories of each of these guys relate to polar bears. You’ll see simulations, animations, videos and even arcade games that explain these concepts. The viewer learns this material accidentally, in between all the fun and games. And, for the viewer who wants to take it further, further, the book provides pop-up factoid screens that explain concepts in depth.

And it all started with one person on a simple tour with Natural Habitat Adventures!

This project went live on Kickstarter a few days ago, and we’re scheduled to have the final product completed next June. I’m grateful to Nat Hab for starting me on this 12-year adventure. It’s been really exciting, and I still clearly remember when I stepped off the plane for the first time and my nose hairs froze and fell off!  I recommend the trip to Churchill for anyone with a sense of adventure. And if you don’t like tundra boots, try Africa?

You can help get this eBook in schools by donating to their Kickstarter campaign – a donation of just $12 will get you (or your child or grandchild) an advance digital copy!

Follow the team’s progress on their Tumblr page and on Twitter @polarpedia.