Standing in the 29-degree air outside a building on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, Josephine Galipon held a pinkie-size vial that may have held tiny organisms locked in a coma for thousands of years.

Galipon, a researcher with Keio University in Japan, needed to work outside a heated room so as not to disturb molecules that have been motionless in frozen ground for as long as 25,000 years. That was a time when giant sheets of ice pressed down on most of North America.

Since the late 1970s, the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute has provided this column free in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer for the Geophysical Institute.