Meet the new generation of high school space scientists
School students are taking over the International Space Station to do a new kind of space science.
There’s an argument going on about gravity at the moment. And instead of letting experienced scientists sort it out, a group of school students have taken matters into their own hands. They’re going to find out the truth – by doing an experiment in space.
It used to be hard for teenagers to do space science. They’d have to sit in their backyards and stare at the stars through a really long telescope. But now there’s an amazing group called Cuberider who are sending hundreds of student experiments to space.
They give students tiny space kits to set up their experiments, and send them on a rocket to the International Space Station. A bunch of these experiments blasted off at 2.30 this morning, to the cheers of students around the country who stayed up late to watch their projects lift off.
“Some schools had camp-outs,’ says Solange Cunin, the 24-year-old who started the Cuberider space science program. “Some of them all got together on Skype, and some had parties this morning as they watched the launch video.”… Continue reading
Watch the launch video here
How do you get hundreds of student experiments to fit on a tiny little satellite?
If you’re imagining bunsen burners and test tubes strapped to a box, you’re not the only one! But that’s not how they do it. These days, amateur scientists have so much more to work with than basic lab equipment. They have code.
It turns out coding is a really powerful way to collect data about the universe. So that’s what these students are doing – they’re learning a programming language call Python and using it to set up their experiment.
Every school team in the Cuberider space science program gets a tiny sensor in their space kit, and they code it to collect the data that they’re interested in.
What do you do with all the space photos?
It’s not just code and numbers flying back through the airwaves to school students collecting space data. They’re collecting photos too.
And with so much material to work with, students are doing something that the Cuberider team didn’t expect – they’re getting super creative.
They’re making songs, games, and murals out of their data.
“Some of the students are even coding LED lights into their murals,” says Solange. “There are so many creative projects going on! A lot of kids have said they didn’t realise how fun science could be.”
Solange says her favourite part is when students who aren’t very interested in science get involved in the program and find out they’re actually really good at it.
“They discover they have a knack for it,” says Solange. “Or they realise they can be tech people and they love that. I have loads of students who want to be software engineers when they leave school.”
Getting back to that argument about gravity
There are all kinds of experiments that students are sending into space. Some are looking at how the earth’s magnetic field impacts the International Space Station and the astronauts living on it. Others are measuring climate at the outer reaches of the earth’s atmosphere.
But the gravity experiment we mentioned earlier is particularly unique, and it might solve an interesting mystery.
Imagine you have a small chamber with fluid in it. And the fluid contains a substance called graphite – the thing that pencils are made of. On earth, if someone heated up a corner of that chamber so one side was hot and the other side cold, you’d see cool currents appear in the fluid. The graphite would be moving along those currents in response to where the heat is.
The currents can be explained by a part of science known as thermodynamics, but scientists don’t know how much gravity is at play here.
“There’s no consensus among scientists in this field,” says Solange.
But if you do this experiment in space – where there is no gravity – you can figure out how much of an impact it has.
This type of heat experiment has never been done on the International Space Station before. And it’s school students who will be at the heart of the discovery.
– Elise Roberts
To find out more about the Cuberider space science program, click here.
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