For her doctoral thesis, Kazuyo Sakanoi studied the mechanisms of flickering auroras — those luminous phenomena in the atmosphere that appear like curtains of light.

"Auroras twinkle at an altitude of about 100 km in the sky. They are phenomena in space actually, not on Earth," says Sakanoi, who specialized in geophysics and is a lecturer in the natural sciences department at Komazawa University in Tokyo.

To do research for her thesis, Sakanoi joined a 40-member Japanese party overwintering near the South Pole in 1997, and ended up staying there for 16 months. In fact, she is one of the first two female Japanese researchers sent to the Showa Station, Japan's Antarctic research base.