Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hardin High School students Jordel Yarlott (left) and David James watch as their personally-designed rover attempts to pick up a sledge-shaped piece of plastic. According to the group, experimentation and collaboration were important to make the machine work properly.Dr. Robert Winglee of the University of Washington finishes the countdown as Hardin sophomore Caleb Wallace presses the launch button for a Generic E2X Estes rocket.Hardin senior Jeremiah Jabs lines up a shot Monday afternoon outside the school football field. Assisting Jabs is Juan-Carlos Chavez, associate director of the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium.

Rovers, arrows and rockets

Program encourages students to shoot for the stars
NASA visited Hardin High School on Monday and Tuesday, and given their teaching curriculum – rovers, arrows and rockets – one might get the feeling they really want to go to Mars.
 
Four groups of high school students entered their commons room the afternoon of the first day, where they were given a box of plastic pieces and told to build a rover. While three groups struggled to complete the first task – that of making their crafted rovers pick something up – the final group of four finished the first step within the first 15 minutes using a rickety, claw-shaped apparatus. The claw, operated by an electric motor, made a light whirring sound as it lifted small objects bit by bit.
 
The next step, according to the instructor, was to try store a piece of plastic on top of said rover using only its electronic controls. They completed the task, though on a small, raised platform they built onto the rover. The machine’s movement would be precarious at best if such a design were to function on an alien planet.
 
The group was made up of students Uriah Turner, Ben Schneider, Jordel Yarlott and David James, all of whom worked in tandem on the rover.
 
Experimentation was important for what they referred to as “a motor pushing gears in different directions.” They leaned forward and watched with undisguised interest as the claw slowly grasped a small, sledge-shaped object.
 
“It all kind of worked out,” Schneider said.
 
Learning trajectory
 
Several hours earlier in the high school’s outdoor football stadium, sophomore Caleb Wallace pressed the launch button for a Generic E2X Estes rocket, which took off with a quick whoosh and stream of smoke. On a nearby table, other students constructed their own rockets from nose cones, tubes, hooks and rings.
 
After the rocket’s parachute opened, bringing it back to the turf from whence it came, Wallace – who had never launched a rocket before – said it was fun to work with the scientists on the project. It was important to be precise, he said, otherwise the launch wouldn’t function properly.
 
“I’d like to do more stuff like this,” he said.
 
As Wallace launched the rocket, students outside the field fired arrows at one of two targets using compound bows.
 
Dr. Robert Winglee of the University of Washington, who assisted Wallace, explained the connection between the rockets and arrows. His biography on the university website states that he has “extensive experience” in space plasma physics and engineering.
 
According to Winglee, the archery and rocket stations are designed to show that both projectiles, physics-wise, are based on the same concept, starting with “how you put the energy into it.” An arrow has one source of energy – the string – while a rocket has several in the form of payloads.
 
“They have to adjust the trajectory of the arrow as they increase the range,” Winglee said as he walked among signs placed in the field to mark positions in the solar system. “As we move out to the solar system, you need to change your trajectory to get to the different planets.” 
 
Far-reaching Grant 
 
Hardin High School is the first stop for a NASA grant partnership with organizations in Montana, Washington and Oregon. Those overseeing the events included Jamie Cornish, science and outreach specialist at Montana State University.
 
Cornish creates and manages more than $15 million in NASA and National Science Foundation grants for statewide programs. A continued interest in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), according to Cornish, is highly important to the success of the nation.
 
“The future workforce, and America’s ingenuity and productivity, are largely based in STEM, whether it’s innovations in agriculture, science or computers,” she said. “We want to get kids excited about that and spark any interest they have in that field.”
 
MSU will be offering a free five-day Earth & Space Science Camp for middle schoolers going from June 26 to July 1, where they will cover topics including – as stated in the website – “engineering a Mars base, making a nature survival kit, building and launching rockets, getting behind-the-scenes at the Museum of the Rockies, protecting Montana’s rivers and forests, and exploring black holes.” 
 
The deadline for applications is April 22 and questions may be directed to Extension Agent Nicole Soll at nicole.soll1@montana.edu or (406) 994-6633.
 
In addition to MSU, support for this event was provided by the NASA Science Mission Directorate Education, Northwest Earth and Space Pipeline, Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium and Montana Office of Public Instruction.
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