Jakob Schwander (Koppigen, Switzerland, 1952) graduated in physics from the University of Bern and received his PhD degree from the same institution with a thesis on electrical conductivity measurements in Greenland and Antarctic ice samples for gas record studies. After completing postdoctoral research at the State University of New York at Buffalo, in 1986 he joined the Department of Climate and Environmental Physics at the University of Bern, where he is now a senior scientist at the Institute of Physics and the Oeschger Center for Climate Change. Author of more than 160 papers, Schwander has participated in more than 20 polar expeditions to Greenland and Antarctica over the past 40 years. In this time, his drilling expertise has proved a powerful aid in international endeavors like the Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP) or the European Project for Ice Sampling in Antarctica (EPICA).
Jakob Schwander declares himself “passionate” about engineering and ice drilling techniques. And the Swiss scientist has been a great innovator on this side of his field developing, improving and creating new devices to reach ever deeper layers of pristine ice. This, precisely, has been one of his major contributions. Thanks to his inventions, Schwander was able to study the air bubbles trapped in the “firn”, the layer of compacted snow above the glacial ice that endures winter after winter at depths of more than 70 meters, where 25% of air is concentrated. In 1984 he published a paper in Nature which concluded that the age of this trapped air was considerably younger than that of the enclosing ice. His research has made it possible to more accurately determine ice core ages at different depths, enabling more precise records to be constructed of past temperatures and rainfall. Around ten years ago, Schwander turned his attention to developing what would become his signature invention, the smallest ice drill in the world. The RADIX (Rapid Access Drill for Ice eXtraction), has a diameter of just 2 cm, enabling it to reach depths of 320 meters (-55oC) in the Antarctic ice in just a few days’ work.