Chrysler Foundation Supports Students in Real Life Science Experiments

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Recently, the results of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) revealed that U.S. 15-year-olds score poorly in math, reading and science in comparison with their counterparts in Shanghai, Singapore and other Asian places. The students'​ scores​ were​ particularly ​low in math, a pattern that has not changed much since the PISA test started to be given in 2000.

Some educational experts believe these results reveal stagnant performance levels while Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the results a “brutal truth,” according to an article in the Washington Post. There are concerns the U.S. is losing its competitive edge.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Initiatives such as the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 4 ​that aims to give students the chance to experience science in a real life context​—and give some support to science education. Overseen by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, SSEP typically gives 300-plus students across select communities the chance to design and propose real microgravity experiments to fly in low Earth orbit, conducted on the International Space Station (ISS).

The project goes back to November 15, 2012, when the Mission 4 to ISS flight opportunity was announced. Program operations kicked off on February 25, 2013 when 11 communities from seven States were aboard, and 3,080 grade 5-12 students were formally engaged in experiment design.

At the conclusion of the nine-week experiment design phase​,​ a total of 744 microgravity flight experiment proposals were received from student teams, and 353 were forwarded for review by Step 1 Review Boards in the communities. Three finalist proposals were selected by each community’s Step 1 Review Board for forwarding to NCESSE.

On May 21, 2013, the Mission 4 Step 2 Review Board met at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, reviewed all 33 finalist proposals, and selected one proposal to fly for each community, for a total of 11 flight experiments.

One of the selected groups set out to answer the following question: What happens to the formation of crystals in an environment with both increased radiation and microgravity?

The experiment, which took place in December, was contained within a six-inch, double-walled plastic tube, sealed at both ends with removal caps. A clamp at the tube’s midpoint separated a solution of silver nitrate from a small coil of copper wire. When the clamp was removed, the copper wire was immersed in the solution and crystals began to form.

As part of their research, the students could compare the color, average size, symmetry, and structural differences between the samples. By comparing the crystals in these categories, it was evident if the space crystals were physically the same as those formed on Earth.

This was the experiment carried out by students from MMSTC in Michigan. The team received a $17,500 grant from The Chrysler Foundation to cover the costs of getting their science experiment to the International Space Station aboard a rocket launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia.

“This has been a real hands-on math and science initiative that has engaged students about pursuing STEM-related careers,” said Mark Supal, an interdisciplinary studies teacher at MMSTC.

Image credit: The Chrysler Foundation