Researchers at NUI Galway are leading a Science Foundation Ireland Dcivoer program team with partners University of Limerick, Met Éireann and Lero, the SFI Research Centre for Software, to deliver school children’s projects high into the stratosphere to study the effects of being near space on the experiments.
NUI Galway’s High Altitude Experiments
The ‘Spaceship Earth’ project delivered two space-themed workshops to primary school children in Galway. Limerick and Kerry. In these workshops, children were taught about the importance of Science Technology Engineering Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM), as well as asking science questions and developing experiments to answer them.
The project involves launching fice high altitude weather balloons from Met Éireann’s observatory in Valentia in Co. Kerry on Friday 2nd of July. The researchers expect these will reach more than 30km high and will expose the payload experiments to the extreme environment of low pressure, low temperature, and cosmic radiation.
After the maximum height is reached the space balloon bursts, a parachute then triggers for a safe descent. The payload is fitted with GPS, data loggers, and tracking technology to accurately find its return location.
Once the payload returns, students engage in analysis and discuss their experiments to extend and deepen their learning. Lero’s Professor Derek O’Keeffe, Project Lead and Professor of Medical Device Technology and Director of the HIVE Lab at NUI Galway spoke on this program.
He said, “This exciting Spaceship Earth STEMM outreach project mission aims to inspire and empower students to think big, beyond the horizon and show them that involvement in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine is for everyone.”
Charles Gillman, COO at Met Éireann’s Valentia Observatory said “Met Éireann has a long history of launching weather balloons at Valentia Observatory, with the first launched in the early 1940s. Every day since, these balloons have been providing valuable information on current atmospheric conditions that are essential in helping to produce our weather forecasts in Ireland and around the world.”
He also said, “We are delighted for our weather balloons to play a part in the Spaceship Earth project and look forward to learning the results of this exciting and inspirational STEMM experiment – it really is out of this world!”
Of the potential STEMM experiments, there is learning about randomised control design by taking 10 sunflower seeds and allocating five for spaceflight and five to remain as a control and then monitoring their growth afterward to see spaceflight effects. There is exploring the low-pressure effects of high altitude on the shape of bubble wrap, grapes, and marshmallows.
Investigating the high-altitude environmental effects on a wet sponge, and finally examining how zero gravity affects the operation of medical technology. The Spaceship Earth mission included over 300 students in three schools in the west and south of Ireland, Scoil Mhuire, Oranmore in Galway, Scoil Iosagain, CBS in Limerick, and Scoil An Chroi Naofa, Presentation in Tralee Kerry.
Principal Edel Carney, Scoil Mhuire, Oranmore, Galway, said, “Spaceship Earth is one of the best STEMM engagement initiatives I have seen in my career. It makes learning about Science fun and has inspired our students.”
Over 60 student experiments will be launched on Friday, 2nd of July, including mission patch artwork that the school children have made, that will be given to them after as a memento and the Spaceship Earth team will attempt to achieve the world record for highest altitude paper plane flight. Dr. Patrick Johnson, School of Education at University of Limerick, said, “This project is a unique opportunity for schools to engage in a novel and exciting venture that aims to develop students’ critical thinking skills, creativity and curiosity, with the additional goal of developing positive dispositions amongst those involved toward STEMM subjects.”
Dr. Cornelia Connolly, School of Education at NUI Galway and Lero, said, “This project offers a unique opportunity not just to research attitudinal responses to STEMM but working directly with the teachers and young people we are introducing and showcasing innovative STEMM projects, encouraging engagement.”
As well as the experiments, these balloons can capture stunning pictures of the curvature of Earth with its onboard cameras, to learn more about this project, check out this link.
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