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home : nation / world : nation/world Friday, November 24, 2017

11/29/2016 4:16:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Xiong Yang, Ph.D. (Prayath Nantasin): The First Hmong Scientist To Do Research In Antarctica

By Dr. Kou Yang

Prayath Nantasin receiving the flag of H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Prof. Prayath Nantasin will take this flag with him to the Antarctica as a Thai scientist.
His geologist colleagues in the JARE58, which includes Japanese, Mongolian and Indonesian.
When Prayath Nantasin (Xyooj Yaj), Ph.D., steps on the ice of Antarctica on December 17, 2016, he will make history as the first Hmong to not only step on Antarctica, but also to conduct scientific research there. His research project will last until February 26, 2017, when he and his team will leave Antarctica for Australia. Professor Prayath 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, 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 November 18 to 24, 1993.

His eight scientist team will be led by Yasuhito Osanai, a very well-known Professor of Kyushu University in Japan. Their research project is funded by the National Institute of Polar Research, Japan (NIPR). Their research project 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 November 28-30, 2016. They will be on board the Shirase Ice Breaker on November 30, 2016. After a brief orientation, the team will depart Fremantle for Antarctica by December 2, 2016. Their vessel is scheduled to arrive at Antarctica around December 17, 2016. They will conduct their respective research project until February 25, and then leave Antarctica the next day. They are expected to arrive on March 20, 2017 at Sydney, Australia.

Prof. Prayath Nantasin (Xiong Yang) 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.

His 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 Prayath Nantasin and his colleagues to study them. They will publish the result of their studies in peer-reviewed international journals.

Prayath 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, Prof. Prayath 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 include the Geological Survey of Thailand to clarify metamorphic rock in Thailand.

Prof. Prayath Nantasin is a very productive researcher, and has authored and co-authored 14 peer-reviewed journal articles.

In June 2016, Professor Yasuhito Osanai recruited Prof. Prayath 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.

Dr. Prayath Nantasin is Hmong and his Hmong name is Xiong Yang, but his friends also call him Kub. He comes from a very large family of 10 children (four brothers, five sisters and him). 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 on the Thai side in the 1960s, and has since called Thailand their home. His father joined the Laos Armed Forces, fighting against the communist movement in Laos before the family migrated to Thailand. 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, Narai Luang Sub-district, Song Khaew District, Nan Province. Since a very young age, 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, he would likely prefer to stay home and be like their other sons. But, he was sent to school and found his niche.

Dr. Nantasin 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 was a major barrier for him. He, like other poor ethnic minority students, did not have financial support. Although the 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 an uphill battle; first, he must survive in the Metropolitan of Bangkok, secondly, he must adapt to university life and be among the elite, 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 three and a half years completing 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 December 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 Dui Poui on January 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 returns and arrives in Sydney in March, he will be welcomed 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 Tshav Ntuj. 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.

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