The seventh-grade gifted pre-algebra and science combined class (STEM) recently participated in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at ASU’s Mars Research Center.
The STEM students competed for a chance to take a picture with a special camera called Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), which is installed on the Odyssey spacecraft orbiting Mars.
To qualify, the student team had to present a proposal, which scientists with the Mars Research Center reviewed. The class also participated in distance learning teleconferences on subjects such as impact craters and Mars topography.
The scientific question was: Do lava flows tend to cover water features or vice versa? This can tell us which came first —the water or the volcanism.
The class theorized that the water should come first because volcanoes melted subsurface ice on Mars, creating chaos terrain, stream channels and canyons. Students also looked at volcanic features including collapsed lava tubes and lava flows.
A week before traveling to ASU, the class chose its primary and secondary targets using Odyssey’s targeting software. The primary image was the escarpment on the west side of Olympus Mons and the secondary image was of the earthquake features north of Alba Patera.
On March 1, the class arrived at the Mars Research Center and was greeted by Wendy Taylor and Meg Hufford. Taylor and her team of graduate students helped guide our students through three days of intensive research.
The first day, we learned some background information and how to use the image processing software to look at the THEMIS images.
On March 2, we learned how the satellite is targeted and downloaded our images, which were amazing. Even the resident scientists thought they were beautiful.
The students then broke into eight teams and looked at archived images of Mars. They found a number of features that helped to answer our question.
These included a collapsed lava tube that looked as if it had water running into one hole and out another, a series of lava tubes cut through by a stream, lava covering a large canyon with a small gully cutting through it, and many others.
On March 3, we organized our images into a Powerpoint presentation, and concluded, after looking at around 50 images, that the water features seem to overlay the lava flows, which supports our hypothesis.
The students then presented their results before a panel of scientists, engineers and Mars Research Center staff who cross-examined them. They were well received by all.
The students in my STEM class did an amazing job with this project.
They worked extremely hard and made a very creditable presentation. They did a lot of work that is usually reserved for Ph.D.s and graduate students in a short period of time.
I am quite proud of them. When we return from spring break, we will be writing the final paper, which will then be placed on the Mars Research Center Web site.
As one of our chaperones, Devin Wala said, “It is amazing to think that our seventh-graders are taking pictures with a multi-million dollar camera around Mars.
When I was in seventh-grade, my uncle wouldn’t let me use his instamatic camera! Amazing.
I would like to thank my chaperones Joanna Davis and Devin Wala. We couldn’t have done it without you. I’d also like to send a huge thank you to Wendy Taylor, Meg Hufford and the whole MSIP team.
All your hard work is worthwhile. My students will never forget this experience. Finally, I want to thank my seventh-grade gifted STEM students. You far exceeded our expectations. Oh, the places you’ll go! Thank you for the honor of working with you.