Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium

Expanding Frontiers Fall/Winter 2003

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Table of Contents:

Microgravity alumni still soaring

Paul Saitta and robot in freefall

Microgravity team member Paul Saitta monitors their robot as it attempts to determine its orientation in freefall.

UW alumni Kevin Strecker will defend his physics dissertation next month, but were it not for NASA's reduced gravity flights for undergraduates he might have investigated a wholly different topic.

"It was the microgravity project I worked on for the student flight experience that got me interested in my current field," says Kevin, now at Rice University.

The Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program, based at Johnson Space Center, provides a unique chance for students to design, build, fly and evaluate their own experiments in microgravity. The students fly aboard the same plane used to simulate weightlessness in the film "Apollo 13."

Since 1997, Washington Space Grant has sponsored 46 student participants. The latest team, which flew in August, was comprised of students from the UW and four other institutions. The students used the opportunity to test an autonomous free-flying robot that they designed to be capable of navigating in a microgravity environment.

The team spent two years developing their project and bringing their funding together. Despite a problem with the thrusters, it appears that the robot was gathering data and attempting to correct its position on its own, said UW student David Bliss.

"We can see it was trying to thrust when we wanted it to, but we don't know that that would do the job," he says.

The team—Linda Bushnell, UW professor of electrical engineering—has been invited to return next year. Other members of the team included UW Space Grant scholar J. Lee Zeman, Matthew Dockery of Seattle Central Community College, Paul Saitta of Case Western Reserve University, Adam Bliss of Harvey Mudd College, and Erin Karper, doctoral candidate, Purdue University.

Research programs like this are intended to fire students' enthusiasm for careers in science. "My experience was very useful in preparing me for successful graduate work," said 1999 UW team member Trevor Olson, who is working on a physics doctorate at Cornell University. "It allowed me to see first hand what research was like and that it was something that I wanted to do as a career."

His teammate Lisa Couret is completing a doctorate in medical physics from the Institute of Cancer in London. Susan Richardson, a 1997 team member and WSU grad, just finished her medical physics doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Vassilious Bezzerides, a 1998 UW team member, is enrolled in the Harvard-MIT MD/PhD program.

For some participants, their experience is just the beginning of a long and productive relationship with NASA. Kevin, who flew with one of the first teams in 1997, was a Texas Space Grant fellow for two years. Last year, he gave an invited talk at COSPAR, the international space congress. A NASA microgravity grant funds his current research on ultra-cold atoms—part of a team effort that could lead to sophisticated atomic lasers predicting volcanic eruptions on Earth and even mapping a probable subsurface ocean on Europa. No doubt NASA will continue to play a role in his career after graduation in December.

Mini-grants support innovative lessons

Vineland Elementary students

Students in Colleen Fairchild's fourth grade class at Vineland Elementary in Poulsbo solve a series of engineering problems using gears and pulleys.

Last year, teachers at Forks Elementary visualized a "Discovery Room" where students could create an electrical system that rings a bell, learn the secrets of solids and liquids, or use the garden to conduct nature observations.

Today they have one, thanks to a Space Grant mini-grant.

"By matching funds with our district budget, we were able to purchase basic supplies and materials to teach inquiry-based science integrated with math," writes science coordinator Sherry Schaaf.

Last year, 19 projects received awards of up to $400 each through the Space Grant mini-grant program. K-12 teachers in public and private schools, as well as home school teachers, are eligible to apply.

Space Grant has funded projects in the areas of astronomy, earth science, rocketry, weather and ecological systems. Several projects have won national or regional acclaim including the annual NSIP competition.

Grants must be matched one to one by nonfederal funds. Teachers often use donations from private industry, PTAs and school fund-raisers as sources of matching money.

The application deadline is Nov. 3. Awardees will be notified by mail in January.

Teachers, GEAR UP students get starry-eyed

Astronomy activities captured the interests of teachers and students alike last summer.

In July, 26 teachers from around the state took part in Astounding Astronomy, a special workshop that focused on the solar system, the structure and evolution of the universe, and a raft of other concepts.

The workshop, which took place on the UW campus, was geared to middle and high school educators. The goal was to help teachers develop a better understanding of astronomy and engage in hands-on activities, as well as adapt content and activities to classrooms.

The workshop was sponsored by Space Science Network Northwest (S2N2) and by the Space Grant Consortia of Oregon and Washington.

About 125 visiting middle and high school students also learned the basics of astronomy as part of Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). Nancy Cooper, assistant director of S2N2, led planetarium shows and helped them make "impact craters" out of flour and chocolate flakes.

GEAR UP brings disadvantaged students to the UW campus to pique their interest in higher education and expose them to a variety of careers.

SCCC awards six Space Grant scholarships

SCCC scholars

SCCC scholars (back row, left to right) Khai Nguyen, Ming Tan, Yosyani Setyono, Brittany Blue, (front row, left to right) Galen Sather, Space Grant advisor Dr. Marty Cavalluzzi of Seattle Central, and Trung Minh Ha.

Space Grant scholars at Seattle Central Community College have overcome many obstacles. This year, four of the six scholars are the first in their families to attend college.

Each student was awarded $2,000. For Brittany Blue, the scholarship will give her a chance to concentrate on her education. A single mother, she has been juggling part-time work with a full course load.

"Combining my studies with parenthood is not an easy task, but I want to be a positive role model to my daughter as my parents were to me," she says. Brittany plans to continue her studies and complete her bachelor's degree at Seattle University.

Ming Tan, a first-generation college student, is a Phi Theta Kappa member, works part time at Seattle Public Library and has a keen interest in chemistry. He plans to transfer to the University of Washington to continue his studies.

Khai Nguyen is active in Phi Theta Kappa, works 20 hours a week and volunteers three hours a week. The second oldest of nine children, he is the first person in his family to go to college. After completing classes at Seattle Central, he plans to pursue a computer science degree at the University of Washington.

Trung Minh Ha's goal is to become an engineer. Minh, who maintains a 4.0 grade point average, is also the first person in his family to go to college. In his first quarter at Seattle Central, he scored the highest in the first round of the mathematics competition for two-year colleges (AMATYC).

Yusyani Setyono maintains a 3.85 grade point average and plans to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.

Galen Sather grew up intrigued by science and plans to major in biotechnology. She hopes to eventually earn a doctorate and work in the field of immunotechnology, genetics and medicine. "I can think of nothing more fantastic," she says, "than being able to 'follow the polymerase dream.'"

Space Grant celebrates student accomplishments

Students at work

Karen Kennell and Sam Skinner work on the CCD camera on the telescope at Manashtash Ridge Observatory.

Nearly 60 student researchers presented the results of their work to faculty, family and fellow students on Oct. 3 at the Space Grant Reception and Poster Session.

The annual event honors the incoming Space Grant scholars and recognizes the work of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) participants, as well as other summer researchers supported by Space Grant.

SURP lets students participate in research as early as the summer prior to their freshman year. Dr. Martin Kushmerick, professor of radiology and bioengineering, praised the work of his interns, incoming freshmen Lauren Palmer and Sara Van Nortwick.

"All worked well together, learned from each other and formed a happy productive group," said Kushmerick, who also participated last year. "I am now inundated with data to digest." SURP co-sponsors include the Mary Gates Endowment for Students and individual faculty participants.

This year Space Grant awarded UW scholarships to 18 incoming freshmen and five community college transfer students, plus one graduate fellow. Continuing scholarships were awarded to 53 students.

Academy offers chance to see inside NASA centers

Graylan Vincent

At Johnson Space Center, NASA Academy participant Graylan Vincent visited the lab of astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, who is working on the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine, which will allow for faster space travel.

When asked to pick one high point in his NASA Academy summer, UW senior Graylan Vincent was stumped. There were simply too many possibilities.

His chance meeting with Frank Drake, developer of the Drake Equation. A group visit to Johnson Space Center. Talking with dozens of astronauts, researchers and NASA experts willing to show a group of undergraduates how NASA works.

And there was the research itself, important real world research.

"I was working on a project looking for water on Mars, which is really cool since we may have found some," he said. "Plus my work will help the MER rovers when they get to Mars in January."

In their "spare time," the NASA Academy team also developed a microbiologically influenced corrosion experiment for a research and film project undertaken last summer by James Cameron, director of "Titanic " and "The Abyss. "

The students' equipment was dropped atop of a hydrothermal vent, and despite a few setbacks, they are now analyzing their data.

The 10-week astrobiology program, held at Ames Research Center in California, is designed to build students' leadership skills and give them a glimpse of the aerospace industry as a whole. Graylan's participation was sponsored by Washington Space Grant.

A UW senior, Graylan flew on the NASA KC-135 last year as a member of an undergraduate reduced-gravity flight team, also sponsored by Space Grant. He is completing a double major in geology and aeronautical and astronautical engineering.

Space science for exceptional needs students

NASA Space Science Network Northwest (S2N2) is planning for a 2004 workshop to provide standards-based space science activities and content to educators of students with exceptional needs.

Workshop presenters and participants will share their knowledge and professional experiences through short presentations, interactive activities, and group discussions. Participants are encouraged to simulate a variety of physical disabilities using visual impairment goggles, hearing impairment simulators, and other materials and devices. Discussions regarding learning disabilities, for example ADD and ADHD, are held throughout the workshop.

The workshop will take place July 18-22 at the University of Washington. Registration opens in March 2004.

Organizers are currently trying to determine how many Washington educators might attend so they can make sure space is available to accommodate all who wish to participate. If you would be interested in attending, please e-mail Nancy Cooper.

New offices for Space Grant

On Dec. 10, Space Grant will move its offices into the University of Washington's former law school building at 1100 NE Campus Parkway in Seattle.

The move is part of a $50 million renovation planned for historic Johnson Hall, where the office have been located for the past 15 years.

The new Space Grant offices will be located on the third floor of Condon Hall. The mail box, telephone and fax numbers will remain the same. Office hours will also remain the same, 9 a.m. -5 p.m. Metered on-street parking is available in front of the building and on nearby side streets.

The NASA Regional Educator Resource Center will continue to be housed in the Space Grant offices. However, due to the move, the ERC will be closed during the month of December. The free Saturday workshop on Mars will be held Dec. 13.

Johnson Hall—located northwest of Drumheller Fountain—was built in 1930. The renovation, which is expected to take two years, will address health, safety and code requirements. Once the renovation is completed, the five-story building will again house the Biology and Earth & Space Sciences departments.

SG Scholars' Achievements

Senior Mark Steedman, a Space Grant scholar, is co-author of "On the Importance of Quality Control in Microfluidic Device Manufacturing." The bioengineering major's paper will be published in the proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Miniaturized Chemical and BioChemical Analysis Systems, which is being held in October in Squaw Valley, Calif.

Sophomore Jonathan Su's research work on the ConferenceXP educational technology system, which is funded in part by HP/Compaq and Microsoft Research, was demonstrated at the Microsoft Faculty Summit. Jonathan, a Space Grant scholar and computer science major, has been working with Prof. Richard Anderson on a feature that would facilitate classroom interaction by allowing students to write directly on a professor's PowerPoint slides.

Freshman Stuart Bowers exhibited his research poster on the statistical analysis of cDNA microarrays utilizing open-source software packages at the Fourth Annual Northwest Gene Expression Conference in Seattle. The incoming Space Grant scholar took part in SG's Summer Undergraduate Research Program, working with biochemistry Prof. Hannele Ruohola-Baker.

Timothy Briggs, a Space Grant scholarship recipient at Seattle Central Community College, was awarded a Space Grant Community College Transfer Scholarship at UW. He is majoring in mechanical engineering.

UW seniors Luke Pinnow, an anthropology major, and Meena Padha, a biology major, displayed their poster, "Exploring the Limits of Self-Sustainable Closed Ecological Systems (CES)" at NASA's Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts–Academic Linkage (RASC–AL) meeting in Florida last spring. Their work was part of a UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences undergraduate research course supported by Space Grant and taught by Prof. Frieda Taub.

Graduate student news: UW Earth & Space Sciences doctoral candidate Randall Stewart Perry was invited to speak at the International Society for Optical Engineering conference in San Diego last summer on whether a cometary or asteroidal impact caused the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction. His research is supported by Space Grant.


NSIP Contest is open

Posters announcing the 2003-2004 NASA Student Involvement Program (NSIP) competitions for K-12 students are now available.

This year, categories include Earth-focused research, planetary mission design, communicating the story of flight in print or on videotape, and creating experiments for NASA launch. Winners receive plaques, medals, NASA ceremonies at schools, Space Camp scholarships. The top high school students and their teacher receive a trip to the National Symposium and/or Student Flight Weeks. For more information, go to http://education.nasa.gov/nsip..

Become a NASA Explorer School

Applications are now being taken to become a NASA Explorer School (NES). Selected schools or school districts enter into a unique three-year partnership with NASA to bring exciting opportunities to educators, students, and their families.

NASA Explorer Schools are involved in the excitement of NASA research, discoveries, and missions through their participation in learning adventures and scientific challenges.

The 2004 program will focus on content for grades 4-9. Materials will be grade-specific and conform to national education standards. NASA Explorer Schools receive grants of up to $10,000. The NES program is sponsored and implemented by NASA through a cooperative agreement with National Science Teachers Association.

The deadline for online applications is January 30, 2004. To apply, go to http://explorerschools.nasa.gov/portal/site/nes/