When the kids return to school next week, students at four schools in Central Florida will have new hands-on space science activities to look forward to, thanks to a collaboration with space experts at UCF.
This past summer, teachers from East River High School, Wekiva High School, South Creek Middle School and Mollie Ray Elementary School spent time alongside Associate Professor of Physics Adrienne Dove and from his team of undergraduate and graduate students at UCF’s Center for Microgravity Research Labs. Dove is working on a NASA-funded experiment (Strata-2P) aimed at understanding the mechanical interactions between particles that make up granular materials, such as rock, sand, and dust, under varying gravitational accelerations, including those on the moon, Mars, and asteroids.
“Our research has applications in planetary surface studies, such as those focused on the moon and asteroids, and is relevant to human and robotic exploration missions, such as NASA’s upcoming Artemis and VIPER missions,” said Dove, who has had various experiences. flying in parabolic planes and private rockets in recent years. “The results of the Strata-2P experiments will provide insight into how grain geometry, such as shape and size, and various gravitational effects contribute to the way granular materials settle and settle during the activities of planetary exploration. We will explore different tools and techniques to interact with these surfaces.
NASA plans to land astronauts on the moon’s south pole by 2024. This would mark the first time Americans have returned to the moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. In recent years, NASA and the United States Commercial space companies worked to get a spacecraft and supporting equipment in place to make the mission a success. Figuring out how to minimize the impact of space dust on the spacecraft, instruments, and people is among the many challenges scientists face on the mission. Dove’s area of expertise includes the study of these dusty interactions on planetary surfaces.
Dove knows firsthand that engaging high school and college students in hands-on research is a great way to prepare them for active life. Research that can easily be linked to a problem that NASA or private industry is trying to solve is a great motivator for students, she says. But having student classes in the lab is just not feasible. Dove worked with UCF physics instructor and former high school teacher Adam LaMee to develop the teacher-in-residence program for this project. The program helps classroom teachers get a taste of space research, which they can then use to develop lessons and activities for students of different levels and backgrounds.
For several weeks this summer, local teachers were able to participate in a range of activities in the lab, from programming microprocessors to analyzing images using Python, generating analyzes and data visualizations and device fabrication needed for Dove research. They will continue to interact with the lab throughout the school year as the project progresses and they will implement the lessons into their curriculum. They will also participate in bi-weekly science team meetings (held virtually to accommodate the distributed team) and the flight planning process. Participants will receive stipends for their efforts and teachers will also have the chance to fly aboard a zero-G flight with the UCF research team later this year.
“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with graduate students on an important project that tests real-world science,” says Shelley Bullard, who teaches at South Creek Middle School. “The fact that projects go up in space makes it even more exciting. I also interviewed undergraduate and graduate students at the lab to show my college kids how interesting physics projects are and to give them a sense of what they can become in this field. I think they will love the projects and can be encouraged to choose science careers accordingly. “
Dove and LaMee will be in touch with participants throughout the school year to offer their expertise while teachers develop activities. They will also want to hear how the activities translated into the classroom. Teachers blog about the project to bring the content to a wider audience.
“It was fun meeting them and getting started,” Dove says. “They have come up with some really creative ideas so it will be great to see what they develop for their students. For me it was really a great learning experience so far as I had never directly worked with K-12 on a project like this before. But having the opportunity to help teachers stimulate the imagination and the passion for science, I totally agree.