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Global Collaboration Turns Earth Into Sandwich

Highlands Ranch, CO - Talk about an overstuffed sandwich! The next time you order a sandwich “with everything,” consider this: everything on Earth was placed within a sandwich earlier this month...and we mean everything. The “Earth Sandwich” was formed on November 11th, 2019, when a team from a Colorado high school and a group of scientists stationed on a remote island in the Indian Ocean simultaneously laid slices of bread upon the ground while located at exact antipodes—precise opposite points on the globe—thus turning the entirety of Earth into sandwich fillings.

One bread slice was laid on Île Amsterdam, a 21-square-mile island roughly equidistant from Antarctica, Australia, and Madagascar. Part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, the island is uninhabited aside from a research base, home to a handful of scientists and staff studying the biology and meteorology of the Southern Indian Ocean. This small island is one of only three tiny locations that share an antipode with the continental United States.

Rock Canyon High School science teacher Daniel Jibson invited scientists stationed on Île Amsterdam to collaborate on the construction of an Earth Sandwich after sharing with his students that they lived a few hundred miles from Île Amsterdam’s antipode during a geography lesson. Jibson says his students found “the mix of silliness and scientific precision to be fun and engaging—the excitement was palpable at each step along the way, especially as the day of the sandwich approached. We are truly thankful to the researchers on Île Amsterdam who took a moment out of their day to make this global learning experience possible.”

Jibson believes that this is the first ever Earth Sandwich to be synchronously created at precise antipodes. “In previous attempts at constructing an Earth Sandwich, the slices of bread have either been laid down at different times or have not been located at exact antipodes. We synchronized our sandwich using their sunset and our sunrise, and we used GPS to be sure that we were at true antipodes.”

A third team in Westwood, Massachusetts, joined in on the fun by providing a beverage on the side. Westwood High School science teacher Greg Schwanbeck—a former colleague of Jibson’s—coordinated the effort, which consisted of carefully positioning a can of soda at the same moment that the antipodal teams were laying their slices of bread. “We 3D-printed a custom designed ‘can orientation device’,” explains Schwanbeck. “This inclined the can the 22.9 degrees required to align the axis of the can to the axis of the Earth Sandwich, given our location relative to Colorado and Île Amsterdam. A great sandwich needs a drink on the side, and that drink needs to line up with the sandwich, not be tilted at some haphazard angle.”

Can a sandwich ever be more than just a sandwich? “Why not?” asks Jibson. “Obviously, the ceremonial placing of bread slices on the ground is objectively silly. But it’s also a unifying experience that says a lot about how interconnected we can be if we try. For a brief moment, the whole world was united as one—we were all a sandwich.”

Westwood High School Astronomy students had been following developments in the Earth Sandwich's planning process as part of their study of latitude and longitude. On the morning of the 11th, a day school was not in session in observance of Veteran's Day, a handful of WHS students and faculty gathered in the school parking lot for the event. "We had been hoping to observe the transit of Mercury that morning in addition to adding the beverage-on-the-side to the Earth Sandwich," explains Schwanbeck. "Unfortunately, clouds ruined our efforts to view the transit. Thankfully, sandwiches are unaffected by clouds." At a time calculated to coincide with the sunrise in Colorado and the sunset on Île Amsterdam, a can of Coke Zero was opened and placed in the can orientation device. "We chose Coke Zero because that is what I had in my fridge" says Schwanbeck. After the appropriate amount of pomp took place, students and faculty ceremonially poured the soda into multiple small cups and shared it. Says Schwanbeck, "it was a fun way to help students discover that our world isn't as big and as disconnected as we might think."

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