Professor rocks CBS segment

Not many people can say they are a “bona fide ‘rock’ star.”

But to Hazel Barton, it’s all in a day’s work.

Barton, a biology professor at Northern Kentucky University, was profiled on CBS’s The Early Show in a segment called “Keoghan’s Heroes,” with Phil Keoghan from The Amazing Race, for her underground research in caves around the globe.

“Caves are one of the last unexplored frontiers on earth and amazing discoveries are made each year,” Barton said.

Debra Pearce, chair of biological sciences, agrees with Barton.

“Like rainforests, caves are unharvested but fragile biological niches that hold potential for expanding scientific horizons, including new compounds that may have medical significance,” she said.

In the video, Barton and her student group are exploring a cave in a remote area of Kentucky with Keoghan. She is researching extremophiles, which thrive without sunlight or any other source of energy. The video points out that the enzymes from the extremophiles could lead to powerful new antibiotics.

Pearce said the video was very well done.

“It also showcased that important research can be done by undergraduates who are given the appropriate opportunities,” she said.

Barton has visited more than a thousand caves in her lifetime in places ranging from Britain, Greenland, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala to Venezuela, Greece and New Zealand.

“My favorite (caves) are Lechugiulla Cave in New Mexico, which requires camping trips to explore, and Wind Cave in South Dakota,” Barton said.

She added that both are more than 100 miles long and she and her student group, BLURP, usually camp for a week during their exploration trips.

According to Barton, BLURP came from a student presentation at a meeting on cave studies in Kentucky. She said that they were the only group without a ‘cute’ acronym.

“We made up something silly, which was Barton Lab Underground Research Program or BURP. We told Phil, he thought it was hilarious, but changed it at the last minute to BLURP- extending the L. I think we’ll stick with it now,” Barton said.

Exploring caves has allowed Barton to find hundreds of new species, which are now held at NKU. She adds that they are important because of their metabolic potential.

This is not the first time Barton has been featured on TV. She has also been on “The Real Lost World” on Animal Planet and a segment about Mayan caves on the History Channel.

Barton has some future cave trips planned. She has been invited to Antarctica in January and then a National Geographic expedition to Laos in February. She is hoping to go to China in April.

“It’s going to be a busy spring. Luckily I’m taking time off from teaching, so it doesn’t negatively impact the courses I teach,” Barton said.