Students’ experiments in Springfield could go to space

SPRINGFIELD, NJ — One science experiment will be selected from Springfield to be launched at the International Space Station in 2017 as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. Students at the elementary level will be fully immersed in a scientific experiment that will begin in the planning stage and conclude at the experimental stage. They will research and submit a formal proposal for a microgravity experiment.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program is sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, a nonprofit that hopes to inspire the next generation of scientists. In the middle of November, a review board will select three proposals for submission to the national selection committee.

“The goal of the review board is to have both district faculty and school community input in deciding the three most viable experiments from the pool of 183 student submissions,” Gregory Salmon, supervisor of science and director of the Student Space Flight Experiments Program at Springfield Public Schools told LocalSource in an email. “When assembling the Review Board, I reached out to community members who have conducted scientific research or who have degrees in related fields such as engineering. After our local review board makes its decision, the top three choices get sent to the National Review Board, which is conducted by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

The NCESSE is the governing body for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, thus they have the final choice as to which experiment from each participating organization will fly to the ISS.”

For the past several weeks, students have explored topics such as physical forces and the concept of microgravity. The experiment they design must test microgravity on a system of their choice. Salmon explains how the experiments will be recreated by the ISS.

“The experiment will first be created on Earth in a small silicone tube called the Fluid Mixing Enclosure,” Salmon told LocalSource in an email. “The FME will then be shipped to NanoRacks, which is the company that will ferry the experiment to the International Space Station. Astronauts on the ISS will have very limited time to interact with each experiment. They can perform a small number of operations on each FME including shaking the FME, opening clamps on the FME, and wait time. Students will simultaneously conduct ‘ground-truth’ control experiments in their classrooms, and compare to results to the FME when it returns to determine the effect microgravity had on the experiment.”

Salmon notes that not only will students face a challenge in selecting a topic for their experiments, but they will also prepare a formal research proposal. This will require not only science skills, but also reading, writing, research, mathematical and presentation skills.

“Students will be challenged in two main ways,” Salmon said. “First, students will be challenged to come up with an original, feasible experiment. The experiment must physically fit in the small chamber of the FME, and adhere to strict chemical and biological material limitations while still having a meaningful hypothesis to test involving microgravity. Second, the students must be able to compose a detailed and coherent proposal that will be placed under strict scrutiny by both the review boards. This turns the experiment into a challenging writing task, giving the students a hint at what real scientists go through when proposing experiments. Other challenges include adhering to strict deadlines, collaboratively researching with other students and becoming totally immersed in the process that research scientists go through when conducting science experiments.”

The written proposal challenges students to communicate their ideas effectively to the review board. They also will have to cite their research in the proposal.

“Aside from a viable experiment, the written proposal is another aspect the review board will look at to determine which experiments will be selected,” Center Director Jeff Goldstein, of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, told LocalSource over the phone. “The written proposal will include citations of historical research. The experiments need to be inquiry-and evidence-based.”

In addition, students in Springfield will also compete to design a mission patch that will be transported to the space station. Two patches will be selected from the art classes throughout the district.

“There will be two mission patches,” Salmon of Springfield Public Schools told LocalSource in an email. “Two competitions will be held; one for grades K-5 and one for grades 6-12. Students will design and create their own patches during their art classes and submit them for voting. The winning mission patches will then be submitted to the NCESSE and travel to the ISS before returning back to Springfield to be put on display in the corresponding schools.”