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Grant County kids get an opportunity that’s out of this world

Local science students receive an "out of this world" opportunity with microgravity experiments.

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on September 9, 2014 3:01PM

Sonna Smith

Sonna Smith

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JOHN DAY – This fall, science students at Seneca Elementary, Humbolt Elementary, Grant Union Junior-Senior High School and Monument School will compete for a chance to fly an experiment on the International Space Station.

One Grant County experiment will be among 20 selected nationally for astronauts to conduct during the satellite’s six-week orbit next spring.

Students in grades 5-12 will compete.

Sonna Smith, who teaches science and chemistry at Grant Union, is the local coordinator for the project, a Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.

Smith learned about the opportunity through an email she received this summer and since then has worked to acquire grants to allow Grant County schools to participate in the project. The total amount needed is about $23,000.

Grants received so far include $3,000 from School District No. 3, and $1,000 from Oregon Trail Electric Consumers Cooperative, $500 from Monument School District, as well as funding from the Oregon Communities Foundation.

Smith said they are pursuing other funding avenues to relieve OCF of the remaining burden of cost.

Nationally, there are 25 schools participating.

At the local level, Smith plans for 30-40 experiments created by groups of four to six students.

Starting in mid-September, students will learn about forces and motion in science classes, then break into teams to design research proposals for microgravity experiments.

In November, a committee of local scientists will select three proposals from the county schools to submit to a national selection committee which will select one of the three for the Spring 2015 spaceflight.

All students at participating schools will also be invited to enter a mission patch design competition – one Grant County patch will be chosen to ride along on the spaceflight.

Smith said the learning and activities around the microgravity experiment will constitute the first quarter science curriculum at the participating grades of the schools and offer a valuable opportunity to engage students in real-world learning experiences.

“Gravity affects every biological, chemical, and physical system we encounter each day,” she said. “The research the students do could be the first of its kind done microgravity. The data could be used in all areas of science.”

The experiments will consist of Fluid Mixing Enclosure, containing up to three separate fluids and/or solids. Astronauts will activate the experiment in space by releasing clamps separating the samples to mix the fluids and/or solids. Students may simultaneously conduct the same experiment on land in order to compare results in low versus earthbound gravity.

The microgravity project aligns well to the next-generation science and the Smarter Balance, curriculum standards that Oregon has adopted, she said.

“Authentic, project-based learning is a great example of how science is conducted in industry,” she added. “The students will be writing project proposals along with designing experiments. This is what real life science is, it involves technology, writing skills and problem solving skills along with science knowledge.”

For more information about the project, contact Smith by email: sonnasmith@grantesd.k12.or.us

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (http://ssep.ncesse.org) is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in partnership with Nanoracks LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.


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