Saturday, 20 July 2019

Education & Public Outreach

Summer Interns in Astrobiology 2013

Every summer, the Carnegie Summer Intern Program brings competitively-selected high school and college undergraduate students to our campus for an intensive 10-week experience in original scientific research. Fundamental investigations in the geosciences (experimental petrology, mineralogy, mineral physics, seismology), planetary sciences and astronomy, and related chemical sciences (inorganic and organic geochemistry, cosmochemistry) are pursued. Throughout the summer, students also tour other DC area research facilities and attend Carnegie’s weekly seminars. At the end of the program, students report on the results of their research at a symposium. Several interns have been lead authors of related articles later published in scientific journals. In summer 2013, three interns were mentored by members of Carnegie’s NAI team. Two undergraduates from George Mason University worked with team member Dionysis Foustoukos on oxidation of methane under mild hydrothermal conditions.  One high school student worked with PI George Cody to study the role of transition metal catalysts in partial oxidation reactions as they relate to the formation of organic compounds in primitive Earth. Support for this program comes from a grant from the National Science Foundation as well as from Carnegie funds.

Exploring Ice in the Solary System CD ROM

This CD-ROM containing a series of 13 lessons on the theme “Exploring Ice in the Solar System” was produced in 2003 as part of Carnegie Institution’s EPO effort (described fully in the CIW team’s EPO report for 2002-2003). The lessons span topics from ice in everyday life, to exploring ice in the polar regions of Earth, to icy places on Mars and Europa, to life in ice. Each standards-aligned lesson consists of substantive background information, inquiry-based activities, teaching tips, resources, a photo gallery, and strategies for differentiated instruction and evaluation. In 2006, the CD-ROM was submitted to the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies for NASA product review and was rated “Outstanding” by both science and education reviewers. Well over 30,000 of these CD ROMs have been distributed to teachers in the US and worldwide at teacher workshops, education conferences and informal education venues. The newest version of the CD ROM is section 508-compliant and thus accessible to people with disabilities. TheCD-ROM is being used for teacher training by several NASA missions (includingMESSENGER and New Horizons) and teams and distributed by NASA CORE. In this reporting year, 500 of these CD ROMS were distributed directly to teachers at workshops given by Carnegie’s NAI E/PO team and by the New Horizons and MESSENGER E/PO teams.

First Light Saturday Science School

Carnegie Institution’s First Light Saturday Science School is a program for students in grades 6 through 8 who attend public and public charter schools in the District of Columbia. During the school year, First Light meets for three, 6-week terms. Astrobiology is used as the overall theme and a different topic is explored in depth for each 6 week term. Students engage in experiential learning in both the laboratory and the field and each term includes field trips and sometimes an overnight trip. Over the past year, the focus in the three terms was on human survival in space. In the Fall 2012 term, students prepared their own detailed physiological profiles using a range of sensors to measure heart rate, blood pressure, reaction time and much more. In the Winter term, students studied human nutritional needs and analyzed the chemical composition of foods. In the Spring term, students grew plants on a home-made clinostat to examine the potential effects of microgravity on plant growth. Field excursions included trips to the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, Kings Dominion adventure park (to study effects of G-forces) and an overnight camping trip. Approximately 20 students attend each term and most students return for multiple terms throughout their middle school years

Student-Teacher Astrobiology Researchers (STARS)

In summer 2013, 7 rising high school juniors and seniors from high-minority, urban schools in Washington DC formed a team to conduct authentic scientific research on the question ‘What Organisms are Living in Extreme Environments Around Me?’ The research took place at the teaching laboratory in Carnegie’s Administration building in Washington DC and was guided by staff of the Carnegie Academy for Science Education. During the 6-week program, the STARs team met regularly with Carnegie and NASA scientists to learn about many of the different aspects of research in Astrobiology. The STARs team learned how to design an investigation, how to plan an expedition and to collect samples aseptically, how to use the tools and techniques of microbiology, how to manage data and much more. The STARs team designed their own expedition to ‘Planet Carnegie’, devised protocols for sample collection, collected samples and analyzed their microbial composition. This research experience culminated in an oral presentation of results to an audience of peers (including Carnegie scientists). Students were paid as part of the DC Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program and considerable emphasis was also placed on the development of appropriate workplace skills and behaviors as well career guidance and the process for college applications.

Opportunities in STEM careers in general as well as within NASA in particular were highlighted. Field trips were to the National Air and Space Museum and the laboratories of Carnegie NAI team members in Washington DC.

CAPITaL Science Lectures

To make science more accessible to the general public, the Carnegie Institution of Washington began the Capital Science Lectures in the fall of 1990. These free public talks are designed to help non-scientists understand scientific thinking and to appreciate the importance of basic research in our lives today. Since 1999, many speakers have been chosen to focus on the institution’s interest in astrobiology. For instance, the 2012/2013 series (8 lectures total) included a presentation by French astronomer and cosmologist Dr Joseph Silk entitled ‘From Here to Eternity’. Another of the lectures featured Dr Jesse Ausubel of Rockerfeller University talking about the finding of the first Census of Marine Life. Prior to the lectures, these presenters met informally with middle school students from Carnegie’s Saturday science school, First Light, to discuss their research and how it applies to astrobiology and to the students’ own lives. Students from several area high schools serving a high minority population have been attending the lecture series since its inception. Approximately 450 members of the general public also attended each lecture.

Undergraduate Course in Astrobiology at Eastern Carolina University 

Carnegie NAI team member Matt Schrenk at Eastern Carolina University (ECU) developed and taught a course for Biology Honors students entitled “Life in Space: From Inquiry to Exploration and Back Again”. The course covered both the scientific and societal implications of advances in understanding the context of life on Earth, and the context of Earth relative to the rest of the universe. The 14-week, 28 session course was designed so that students would (a) Understand key terminology in the major scientific disciplines and be able to apply this knowledge to discussions of biological diversity and planetary exploration (b) Understand how planetary-scale processes have contributed to the evolution and adaptation of life on Earth© Appreciate how life, in particular humankind, can impact the future of biology, biological diversity, and ecosystems (d) Have the ability to apply the scientific method to analyze and solve problems from a variety of disciplines. Course requirements were: 1) Term Paper (30%) – 15-20 page scientific paper on an Astrobiology topic of the student’s choice, integrating aspects of Biology with another discipline, 2) Planning a Space Mission (20%) Students work in small teams of 2-3 people to develop a 15-20 page proposal for a space mission to investigate a topic in Astrobiology, 3) Astrobiology Journal (10%) – Students keep a journal of the lectures and group exercises they conduct in the course and write weekly one-page syntheses of the materials in terms of what has been learned, which technologies were used, and what remains to be discovered, 4) Midterm exam (20%) – Short answer and essay format to test the student’s ability to synthesize the material and readings covered in the first portion of the course and use it to creative problem solve, 5) Final Exam (20%) – Covering materials related to the future of our planet and the exploration of space. Six students took the course in the Spring semester 2013.