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What’s Hot and Bright and Has Volcanoes All Over?

Written by student, Trinity Threatt
Edited by student, Michael Hyatt

In Ms. Reed’s Scientific Payload Design class, students partner with UAH’s InSPIRESS program to figure out how to design a payload that will be launched to an extraterrestrial body. The Innovation System Project for the Increased Recruitment of Emerging STEM Students (InSPIRESS) is an outreach project that provides high school students to work together in teams to design a payload that will (hypothetically) be “launched” to a specified location in our solar system. This semester the students in the program designed a payload to be “launched” to Venus. The program refers to this as the VECTOR project (VECTOR stands for Venus Exploration for Composition, Testing, and Research).

This year at New Century, the 10th-12th grade students in Scientific Payload Design were split into teams. Once the students were placed into teams they decided what role they wanted to have in the project. There are 6 roles that students are eligible for, to include the Project Manager, Chief Engineer, Design/ACE (Activities for Community Engagement) Lead, and Design/ACE Team Member. The Project Manager works to ensure that all the people in their group are on task and aware of the work they do. The Chief Engineer helps the design team with the complex math. The design team leader gives out tasks for the design team to do. The Design team does most of the math and comes up with the ideas for the payload that will be “launched” at the selected location. The ACE lead oversees telling the ACE team what their task is, with ACE Team tasks including the creation of the team’s logo and planning ACE events.

The design team primarily focuses on the development of the team’s payload, which is the object that holds all the measuring instruments that collect data about the area selected for the semester. However, they not only come up with ideas for the payload to the designated body, but also with the selected science objectives of the payload. Science objectives are conditions the team wants to study when going to Venus (or the selected body for that semester) or tasks they want the payload to perform. The design team also does a lot of preparations for the hypothetical operation of the payload. As the semester goes on the team is tasked with defending their payload and its design with logic as well as math. They soon delve deeper into the physical components of their payload and translate what was once imagination into reality.

The ACE team is not only responsible for structuring the final presentation to UAH and coming up for name and logo ideas, but also planning outreach events to gather at least 500 surveys. This year all of New Century’s ACE teams collaborated to demonstrate STEM concepts not only to their classmates, but also younger children attending other local schools as well. The schools that the ACE teams visited included New Century, Williams Middle School, Huntsville Junior High School, and the Academy for Academics and Arts. The planning of ACE events would be initiated by a student emailing a school’s administrator or reaching out to a teacher. After establishing a line of communication, the teacher and student would plan a date and time, as well as determining the grade levels the event would reach. The students representing NCTHS would then go to the school, conduct the event, and collect data in the form of surveys.

On November 6th, a team of students from all three teams were selected to go and show the 3rd-5th graders at the Academy for Academics and Arts how STEM can be applied and how it affects our world today. At this event the students performed an event referred to as the Robot Obstacle Course. The Robot Obstacle Course is a programming game where participants program a “robot”, or a person who has their eyes covered, to navigate an obstacle course and complete a task. One of the students involved, Michael Hyatt, stated, “...I thought that some of the kids -- especially the ones who were learning scripting languages -- were definitely on track to attend New Century.” Overall, there were 43 kids surveyed.

Another event that the students conduced was a trip to Williams Middle School on November 21, 2019. At this event the New Century students directed another more familiar activity called Baking Soda Volcanoes. This activity includes participants priming baking soda volcanoes while learning about the structure and activity of volcanoes—specifically, how Venusian volcanoes vary from Earth volcanoes. When asked about the Williams trip, Tyrese Holley stated that, “It was very impactful. I got to meet a lot of students and direct a community activity and see all the kids' smiles.” A total of 240 surveys were collected at the event, giving the ACE teams a grand total of 642 surveys (an astonishing 142 surveys above the goal at 500 surveys).