Eric Chen is the grand prize winner of the 2013 Google Science Fair for his work on new influenza treatments. As part of his prize, he received a National Geographic Expedition to the Galápagos Islands to encounter all that nature has to offer. For this young biochemist, visiting the cradle of the theory of evolution was a dream come true. National Geographic has been a Google Science Fair partner since it launched four years ago.
By Eric Chen
It took four plane flights to reach the Galápagos, and right when we arrived on the National Geographic Endeavour, our schedules were already jam-packed with activities. By the end of day one, I was already exhausted!
The entire week was filled with hikes, snorkeling, and kayaking while seeing amazing wildlife and scenery. Going into the trip I’d already heard many remarkable things about the Galápagos, such as how it’s like witnessing the evolution section in your biology textbook come to life, but I don’t think anything can compare to the real experience. It really is like walking through a zoo with no cages, with animals that don’t give you a second glace as you go by. I did hear that the animals were not afraid of humans, but it’s still quite incredible seeing pelicans diving for fish among swimmers, or a curious wild sea lion pup waddling up to hikers.
I was very impressed by the sheer diversity between the islands—each of the islands was unique, from the flora and fauna on it to the geological formations, and yet so completely different from anything I’ve seen before. Every new day still had hikes or snorkeling or swimming, but I could be confident that I would have fresh experiences and see something unforgettable, like a beautiful, dark red-sand beach or a gigantic manta ray.
At the same time, I was able to learn about pretty much everything regarding the islands. The friendly and knowledgeable naturalists had tons to share—I learned how to identify birds, about Darwin’s troubled childhood, the value of the ocean ecosystems, and so much more. Visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station and learning about their various conservation programs was also nice and quite inspiring; the scientists there are really working hard to safeguard the beautiful natural habitats of the Galápagos.
I’ve now returned to the U.S. with a tan, countless memories, and way too many pictures of baby sea lions. The whole experience was unforgettable, and being able to visit such a pristine and well-preserved set of islands has further motivated me to value our environment. We all must do our part to protect the air, water, and land we often take for granted to make the world a healthier place for all.