Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium

Expanding Frontiers Fall 1996

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Table of Contents:


It's Time to Apply for a Mini-grant

For school children in 72 of Washington's classrooms last year, Space Grant mini-grants were a ticket to adventure. Some students went on data-collecting trips to our state's creeks and woodlands, others on simulated jaunts to Mars and the moon. They traveled light with pencils, compasses and magnifying glasses and found the Universe in a jar or a lunar crater. In January, the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction will again award grants in amounts of up to $250, which will be matched with funds from school districts and other sources. The deadline for applications is Friday, November 15, 1996. For more information, please contact the Space Grant Program office at 1-800-659-1943 or (206) 543-1943 in Seattle.


Attention, Net Traveler

Applicants for Washington NASA Space Grant scholarships and mini-grants will soon be able to send in their applications with a click of the button! By 1997, the forms will be online on our WWW (World Wide Web) pages. The pages now feature general information about our programs, the text of our newsletter and other publications, as well as NASA press releases. Because of its popularity and high level of use, the Web is a great place for net travelers to discover Space Grant. Using computer software called a browser, many of which are available for free, teachers, students and other learners from across the state and around the world can easily access information at http://weber.u.washington.edu/~nasauw.


Pinky Nelson to Direct Project 2061

George "Pinky" Nelson, Washington NASA Space Grant Associate Director, has taken a two year leave of absence from Space Grant and from his duties as UW's Assistant Provost and Associate Professor of Astronomy. Prof. Nelson was selected by the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science to serve as the Deputy Director for Project 2061. He will move to Washington DC in October to begin his new position.

He is proud to be associated with Project 2061, a national science literacy program. "They produce tools that help educators help students at all levels to become science literate." Two examples of such tools are Benchmarks for Science Literacy and Science for all Americans.

Nelson spent 11 years as a mission specialist for NASA, logging 17 days in space during his three flights. He flew on the Challenger in 1984, the Columbia in 1986, and the Discovery in 1988. After resigning from NASA, he came to the UW. He became the Associate Director of Washington's Space Grant when the program began in 1989 and has watched it grow. "I think we have some really innovative projects that have had an impact on the university," he said, pointing out that both the undergraduate scholarship program and the undergraduate research program have been used as models for national efforts. "I am very pleased with what our Space Grant has become."

"Pinky was a tremendous source of enthusiasm and ideas for the program and also provided a vital connection to the university administration," Director George Parks said. "The Project will benefit greatly from his enthusiasm and caring for education. We will miss him and hope that he will have fun in Washingon and be back soon."


Space Grant Scholar Enjoys Work at Penwest

UW Senior Victoria Vaughn describes what she did during her summer vacation as "fun, challenging, and really hands-on!" In June, the chemical engineering major flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to do an internship for a Penwest company called Penford Products, Inc. She worked in the quality control department doing projects such as assessing the amount of moisture lost from a product between the mixing stage and final packaging.

The Penwest Corporation has been a strong supporter of Washington Space Grant for the past four years. In 1992, Mr. Tod Hamachek, president and CEO of the Redmond-based company, awarded the UW a four-year $100,000 gift to be used in part to support Space Grant's outreach and scholarship programs. Since then, this gift has helped to support 33 undergraduates scholars and researchers and has also provided funds for courses and workshops for K-12 teachers. Victoria is the the first Space Grant student to work directly for this generous company. "The people here are what make the difference," Victoria said. "I will miss them all tremendously and will definitely try to return next summer."


NASA's Summer Undergraduate Research Program

The NASA Space Grant Summer Undergraduate Research Program began with 12 students in 1992 and has quadrupled in size. Now in its fourth year, this unique program identifies capable students, then matches them with professors conducting research in the student's field of interest. Last summer, 48 students were placed in labs all over campus to do original research in fields from Aeronautics to Zoology. Freshmen to seniors, these young researchers got a rare view of the day-to-day life of a working scientist.

Under the direction of Geophysics Prof. Mike Brown, sophomore Marcus Collins studied the elastic properties feldspars, the most abundant class of minerals in the Earth's crust. Understanding these properties is crucial to an understanding of the seismic properties of the crust. Marcus was able to contribute with his own original research. After working in Brown's lab for over a year, Marcus has found that being a scientist is frustrating when answers can't be found and satisfying when they are.

"I think what I have enjoyed the most has been the chance to go into the lab an really put in the time to get my own data." When asked his opinion of this young scientist's work, Brown began with one word, "stupendous." In fact, he said, several of his graduate students suggested that Marcus be given an honorary undergraduate degree and a permanent job. "He was able to step into the lab and work as an equal among graduate students." Marcus will present his first paper at the prestigious American Geophysical Union conference (AGU) in December.

Senior Alysha Reinard who received an Outstanding Student Paper Award at AGU last year will present again this year. She has continued her seminal work on microbursts under the direction of Geophysics Prof. George Parks. Her paper is entitled, "A Statistical Study of Auroral Electron Microburst Energy Spectra."

Other notable projects pursued by students last summer included Senior James Wheeler's work on atmospheric aerosols, using recent space shuttle photography under the direction of Chemistry and Atmospheric Sciences Prof. Bob Charlson and research scientist Tad Anderson. Junior Bethany Carlson continued her studies on NASA's "Fish in Space" project with Prof. Frieda Taub of the School of Fisheries, and six students worked with Geophysics Prof. George Parks and Post-doctoral fellow Ruth Skoug on brand new satellite images of the aurora.

Whatever the project, participants in the research program learned new ideas and formed sometimes radically new perceptions. Freshman Sharon Liu worked with mosquitoes, the vampires of the insect world, Aedes Taeniorhynchus, who since prehistoric times has preyed upon the blood of unsuspecting victims. When she first started working as a NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Researcher in June, Sharon hated mosquitoes. Now she has more sympathy for their plight. "I'm starting to tolerate them because I realize their bites are not just random acts of meanness--they need blood to lay their eggs." Sharon's supervisors, Botany's Prof. James Kerwin and Research Technician Erin Peterson, are developing the Lagenidium giganteum parasite for operational mosquito control. This ingenious fungus releases zoospores that attach themselves to mosquito larvae, then pierce through and consume the insides of larvae. Sharon's work includes doing biological tests to study zoospore behavior as well as caring for the mosquito colonies, maintaining fungal cultures, and other laboratory duties. "She's quick to pick up new skills," Peterson said. "You show her once and she gets it." Sharon continued with her intriguing project until September.

The rewards of a summer job in a UW lab are not only academic but financial. Space Grant students earn a salary for the summer but are often asked to return in the fall. At least half of last summer's workers now enhance their studies with part-time jobs in research.

Other benefits include the chance to present research. Each student makes a 10 minute presentation at a weekly meeting for peers and staff. They also make a scientific poster representing their work which is displayed at the Space Grant Reception in the Fall.


SCI-ence Live Takes Teachers Online

Teachers who participated in SCI-ence Live (Science Curriculum Institute) on the UW campus this past summer are excited about using the Internet in their classrooms this Fall. "I learned scientifically valid ways to use the Internet to get live data that children can access instead of tired stuff that's 20 years old," Rosalie Francisco said. "I can communicate better with children now." Francisco teaches second grade at Seattle's Alki Elementary. Evan Justin, an 8th grade teacher at McMurray School on Vashon Island shares her enthusiasm. "Oh boy, I'm charged!" Justin came into the course wanting "a core of hard workers to push each other along," a sense of community with other educators using the Internet as a teaching resource. He judges the success of a program by the number of revisions he makes on his lesson plans. He did a lot of revising at the Institute. "It was a great start."

SCI-ence Live is not just any teacher's workshop. Sponsored by NASA's Information Infrastructure Technology and Applications Program, the workshop was offered by the Live From Earth and Mars project with participating faculty and staff from Washington Space Grant and the UW Departments of Atmospheric Sciences, Geophysics, and Aeronautics and Astronautics. The K-12 teachers who attended got the rare chance to be both students and curriculum developers. Meeting for three weeks in July, they worked with other teachers, University scientists, computer specialists and engineers to learn to access real-time and retrospective Atmospheric Science and Space Sciences data. By the end of the summer, they had designed ten sets of grade-specific lessons for use during the academic year. They will field test the lessons, revise them as necessary, and then make them public on the World Wide Web.

The institute focused on two content areas: the Mars Pathfinder mission and Pacific Northwest weather. Both subjects have tremendous Internet potential. Using the lightning fast capabilities of the Web, students can study weather by looking up weather maps, satellite photographs, and weather predictions. Students can learn about the upcoming Mars mission by exploring on-line information about the previous Viking mission, inluding data collected during and after the flight. Next summer they will be able to access live data from the Pathfinder mission after its planned July 14th landing.

"There's a lot of data available over the Internet that can be a very powerful tool in learning about science," Dr. Janice DeCosmo, Space Grant Associate Director, said. "We wanted to find ways that these resources could be used to meet the the teachers' own learning objectives." DeCosmo co-led the institute with Richard Edgerton, a teacher from Seattle's Roosevelt High School.

Program personnel will visit teachers' classrooms during the school year to continue assessment and hold regular meetings with teachers to extend collaboration and development and facilitate field testing and revision of lessons.

The staff of Live From Earth and Mars invites teachers to visit their home page. Educators interested in piloting these lessons or in attending future workshops, please contact Rich Edgerton at 543-1456 or by email: edge@u.washington.edu.


UW Team "Saves" the Moon

Last June, 11 students from the UW won the Second Annual Lunar Construction contest sponsored by NASA and the American Society of Civil Engineers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the contest scenario, NASA's first permanent base on the moon was in danger. Unhappily, the base would soon face an increase of solar radiation. Radiation shielding had be installed quickly and NASA was seeking "bids". Three college teams responded. The UW student engineers designed an ingenious radiation shielding system which included a collapsible aluminum frame and two robots. At the contest site, they had 45 minutes to demonstrate their design. It was a race to the finish. The team advisor, Prof. Phillip Dunston, was the first recipient of the Washington NASA Space Grant's faculty award which provided the salary for the graduate student team leader, and some travel support. The following is Dunston's account of the UW victory.

We took first place in our first competition against two returning teams, North Carolina State University and Texas A&M University.

Competition went for two days in the Albuquerque heat and the rather treacherous terrain, intentionally designed by the judges to be challenging, resulted in a good bit of difficulty for all of the teams. The better part of Monday evening, and all night in the case of A&M, was spent making from minor to drastic design changes in light of the lessons learned from the first day experience. I was personally impressed by the ingenuity and perserverence under pressure that each team exhibited.

The second day still challenged the robustness of the machines, even though a less treacherous terrain was created for this round. The heat was taking a toll on parts that had worked just fine in comfortable controlled environments. Our dual machine approach (two robots) really provided the options we needed to continue competing even when components were failing. Although none of the teams were able to complete all of the tasks, the UW team prevailed by accomplishing the most in the amount of time that was stipulated, clearly demonstrating an ability to execute each task. Our self-erecting regolith (lunar soil) containment structure was a complete success after working out the glitches encountered on day one.

The winners were announced in a general awards ceremony before all of the conference attendees after dinner on Wednesday evening. We received a plaque acknowledging participation and a perpetual trophy that we will hold for two years until the next competition.

In conversations after the awards ceremony, the judges noted and commended the UW on teamwork and remarkable unselfishness. About four of the team members were essentially working like a NASCAR pit crew. When other teams ran into problems, they were quick to offer assistance, tools, and spare materials.

I would once again like to acknowledge the support of the Space Grant Program and our other contributors. Without them, while we may have competed, we definitely would not have been able to make this such a memorable and valuable learning experience for as many students as were able to go to Alburquerque.