The Red Planet: Learning about Mars Missions

By: Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator, Community Development & STEM, Pickaway County

Access the Red Planet: learning about Mars Missions presentation here.

Students learned about the Red Planet and the history of Mars exploration that date back to the early 1960s. We saw the first close-up photographs of Mars lunar-type impact craters in 1964 from NASA’s Mariner 4 and started studying its solar winds. Six decades later we are witnessing another phase of global exploration of Mars. Last July 2020 approximately 7 months ago three spacecraft launched to Mars.

Why did they all launch around the same time?

Launches to Mars are best attempted every 26-months when our two planets align in their orbits for the shortest trip.

February’s Mars Missions

The first mission to reach Mars was the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Hope Mission. The country has never launched a mission beyond Earth’s orbit before and hopes to drive a new economy around science and not oil. Hope’s pro entered Mars’ orbit on February 9, 2021, and will stay in orbit between 12,430 and 26,700 miles above the surface, completing a revolution of Mars once every 55-hours studying the atmosphere of Mars and the AMrtian weather.

UAE photo source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathanocallaghan/2020/07/13/the-united-arab-emirates-is-about-to-launch-its-first-ever-mission-to-mars/?sh=15af8fbd3a60

The second interplanetary mission to reach Mars came from China’s Tianwen-1 (Heavenly Questions) robotic spacecraft consisting of an orbiter, deployable camera, lander, and rover. The spacecraft entered Mars’ orbit on February 10, 2021. China may become the third nation to reach the surface of Mars! The science objectives its mission hopes to achieve:

  • create a geological map of Mars
  • explore the characteristics of the soil and potentially locate water-ice deposits
  • analyze the surface material composition
  • investigate the atmosphere and climate at the surface
  • understand the electromagnetic and gravitational fields of the planet

Photo sources: https://www.cnet.com/news/chinas-tianwen-1-mars-mission-is-arriving-at-the-red-planet-what-you-need-to-know/ and https://www.cnet.com/news/chinas-tianwen-1-mars-mission-is-arriving-at-the-red-planet-what-you-need-to-know/

The NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover landed in Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021, and will search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance NASA’s quest to explore the past habitability of Mars. The rover has a drill to collect core samples of Martian rock and soil, then store them in sealed tubes for pickup by a future mission that would ferry them back to Earth for detailed analysis.

Perseverance will also test technologies to help pave the way for future human exploration of Mars, including deploying the first Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, a technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars.

Earth Benefits from Space Exploration

Private companies and government space programs are shaping the future of space exploration. The research and engineering effects going into these missions have a direct benefit to Earth as many of the technologies and uses can also be applied here on Earth. Read this Culture Trip article, The Earthly Benefits of a Mission to Mars, to learn more.

Hands-on Virtual Mars Base Camp Challenges

Each club member received Mars Base Camp Kit and together we explored Mars challenges together virtually through Zoom. The Landing Zone Surveyor challenge allows youth to discover features on the surface of Mars that are important, selecting a safe landing site, learning about the Martian landscape, and determine where to set up a future base camp.

NASA lives and breaths the engineering design process. There have been over a dozen surface landing attempts to land on the surface of Mars, but with each attempt, a learning process occurs through the successes, failures, and re-engineering for future space missions.

Image from Planetary.org

Together we all dropped parachutes onto a grided Mars surface. This involved some skills and unknown variables in the parachute deployment. There were several possible outcomes, some failures, and some successful rover landings.

Together we identifying the different landing sites both visually through photographs and imagery. We shared reading out loud the associated landing site cards and gained a better understanding of the varied Martian landscape. We learned a lot of essential geography terms, such as channel, dune, fault, ice cap, impact crater, lander, lava flow, orbiter, remote sensing, rover, and volcano, and learned how they compared to the geography of Earth.

STEM club member participating virtually in Landing Zone Surveyor Challenge

The second Mars challenged we tackled was the Red Planet Odyssey. This activity involved learning more about simple circuits, simple motors, power, mechanical gears, and how they all work together with using the engineering design process to build a STEM rover and solve basic mechanical problems.

Simple Circuits, LEDs, and Paper Circuit Design Challenges

By: Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator, Community Development & STEM, Pickaway County

Simple Circuits with Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator, and Judy Walley, Teays Valley Chemistry Teacher. Full presentation link: go.osu.edu/simplecircuits

Why Understanding Simple Circuits is Important?

Basic circuit knowledge is important for many different disciplines, engineering, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. It’s also useful knowledge around this time of year when you may need to repair a string of old holiday lights? Understanding and building simple circuits show us important concepts learned in school that can describe useful real-world systems, like devices we use every day, cell phones, light switches, Chromebooks, cars, etc.

The electric charge that flows through your house is called your electric circuits. This carries useful energy through your house that you can transform into other forms of energy to do various tasks. The US standard household circuit has an effective voltage that takes 120-volts. Volts represent the energy per unit charge. We discussed these basic building blocks of simple circuits in STEM Club this month. Our hands-on simple circuit design challenge uses 3-volt lithium batteries. Before jumping into our design challenges we’ll cover a few basic circuitry concepts and energy principles.

For program presentation, click here.

Conservation of Energy, First Law of Thermodynamics

The conservation of energy principle was discovered and published by Julius Robert von Mayer in 1842. Mayer was a German physicianchemist, and physicist and one of the founders of thermodynamics. However, there were many others working in the field that made significant contributions, such as, James Prescott Joule, Hermann von HelmholtzAlessandro Volta, and Benjamin Thomson.

The principle of conservation of energy is an effective tool in solving problems and understanding how different forms of energy directly impact our lives. There are also benefits to this principle. These include recycling of materials, lower energy costs for consumers, less pollution due to a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, and less harm to animals and the environment. We watched a short video, from Two Minute Classroom, that explained the basic concepts of how energy transforms itself into other forms and never truly disappears or is destroyed.

Below are 10 common types of energy:

Image source: https://www.thoughtco.com/main-energy-forms-and-examples-609254

Atoms and Electrons

Judy Walley led students through the basic concepts of atoms and electrons, because, without the flow of electrons, we have no electric circuit to work with.

Screenshot of our recorded club meeting where Judy Walley explains the basic concepts of atoms and electrons.

Walley also explained the chemistry of a battery and how chemical reactions occur inside the battery that causes an imbalance or a build-up of electrons (-) on one side of the battery over the other, hence why one side or one terminal of the battery is negative (-) and the other positive (+). We also introduced the basic materials for our hands-on design challenges and explain how a battery works.

Screenshot from our virtual simple circuit presentation.

How a Battery Works

Batteries are important to everyday life. Batteries are essential to most electrical devices. They exist in our cars, cell phones, laptops, and other electronic appliances, and serve as critical backup sources of electricity in telecommunications, public transportation, and medical devices. A battery is essentially a container full of chemicals that produce electrons (-). Inside the battery itself, a chemical reaction produces the electrons.

The battery is a device that stores chemical energy and converts it to electrical energy. The chemical reactions in a battery involve the flow of electrons from one material (electrode) to another, through an external circuit. The flow of electrons provides an electric current that can be used to do work. In our case, students use copper tape to build a paper circuit to create light energy with an LED. Below depicts the inner wors of a battery.

Screenshot of how a battery works from our virtual simple circuit presentation.

The students learned that a battery has three main parts: an anode (-), a cathode (+), and the electrolyte that separates the two terminal ends on the battery. We discussed the chemical reaction happening inside the battery that causes electrons (-) to buildup on one side of the battery causing one end to be negatively charged (-) and the other end positively charged (+). This buildup causes an imbalance of electrons (-), that want to travel to the other side of the battery, but can’t move freely until a conductive circuit is completely looped for the electrons to travel through; in our case, the conduit is copper tape.

When a circuit is complete, or a loop created, the electrons will flow through the conductive paths racing to reach the other side of the battery terminal. When the electrons flow through the loop, the chemical energy inside the battery is transformed into electrical energy running through the circuit. When all electrons (-) make it to the other side, the battery stops working. All of the electric energy was transformed into other forms of energy.

Electrical energy allows us to do work by transforming energy into other forms. We use LEDs in our paper circuit design challenge because it’s a simple way to show how electric energy is transformed or converted into light energy. We could replace the LED with a simple motor and the motor would convert electrical energy into kinetic.

Screenshot of simple circuit components and electricity concepts from our virtual simple circuit presentation.

What’s a Diode?

Both LEDs and motors can easily be added to simple circuits. However, LEDs are somewhat more restrictive than motors, because LEDs are diodes. A diode only allows current to flow in one direction. From the cathode (-) leg of the LED through the anode (+) leg. Note that the anode on a battery is negatively charged, but the anode on an LED is positively charged! The correct way to connect an LED legs to the battery terminals is positive to positive/anode to cathode and negative to negative/ cathode to anode. Study the image above if this is confusing. If the LED or battery are flipped in the wrong configuration then no current or electrons flow through the LED because the diode only allows for current to flow in one direction.

Image source: https://diotlabs.daraghbyrne.me/docs/controlling-outputs-motors/diodes/

A motor does not have a diode, therefore current can flow in either direction, and depending on how the motor is connected to the battery will decide what direction the motor turns left/right, or moves forwards/backward.

Image source: https://www.robotroom.com/DPDT-Bidirectional-Motor-Switch.html

Electric Circuit Design Challenges

As a virtual group, we challenged ourselves with a few NearPod activities to reinforce our electricity concepts before beginning our hands-on paper circuit challenges. A paper circuit is a functioning electronic circuit built on a paper surface instead of a printed circuit board (PCB). Projects can range from greeting cards to origami, to traditional art such as paintings or drawings. STEM totes went home with the students and included paper circuit design challenges and supplies.

Supply List

  • LED
  • Conductive copper tape
  • Plain card stock, or templates printed on card stock
  • 3-V coin cell battery
  • Tape (not included)
  • Binder Clip

Other useful items: multicolor/print card stock, glue stick, scissors, pencils, markers

We went through two paper circuit-build challenges with an independent bonus design challenge. The first design is depicted below. It had a basic road map for us to follow, which we added labels to ensure our understanding of which direction the electrons were flowing and which direction the current was flowing as well as how to position and connect the battery and LED to the circuit correctly.

The second

Once you start learning the basics of paper circuit design you can explore more crafty designs to create circuit cards for all occasions and topics. A few ideas shared at our club meeting:

Club Highlights from 2018-2019

By: Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension

LED Display Circuit Board Challenge

Elementary STEM Club just started its third year of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programming, engaging approximately a hundred 4th and 5th graders in after school hands-on STEM challenges and career exploration throughout the academic school year. Judy Walley, Teays Valley High School Chemistry Teacher, and Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator, co-teach the program, which also involves over two dozen high school mentor students. The mentors assist with club activities while themselves gaining both soft and technical skills, leadership, community service, and college/career exploration opportunities.

Physics and Center of Gravity Challenges

STEM education programs can have a positive impact on students’ attitudes towards STEM disciplines, 21st century skills, and a greater interest in STEM careers. Educators throughout Pickaway County have been busy in supporting a number of problem-based learning initiatives, business-teacher partnerships, and STEM teaching initiatives.

Foldscope, Origami Microscope Biology Challenge

Elementary STEM Club is one of those local initiatives that employs hands-on learning through a multidisciplinary approach into many subjects and career paths. The program challenges its youth in chemistry, astronomy, biology, coding, drone technology, connected toys, wearable tech, strategic mind games, escape classrooms, electric circuits, physics, renewable energy, beekeeping, aerospace, flight simulations, aviation, fostering a community service mindset, and more.

Strategic Mind Games and Bee Science Challenges

We invite specialists from the community to teach, share, and engage with the students, such as the Scioto Valley Beekeeping Association, OSU Professors, an Extension Energy Specialist, an OSU Health Dietitian, and the Civil Air Patrol to name a few. Next year we’re hoping to bring some virtual reality, 360 photography, and video production challenges to our students. If you’re interested in sharing a skillset, a technology, a career path, or a meaningful life experience to some amazing and eager-minded students, please email, thoreau.1@osu.edu or jwalley@tvsd.us.

We’d like to also thank everyone who has been involved in the program over the last two years. It’s been a pleasure and a plunge into the wild side of STEM education, youth workforce development, and promoting a mindset of lifelong learning – all critical to today’s workforce.

Civil Air Patrol and Aerospace Careers

Civil Air Patrol

We ended last year with a great program partnering with Civil Air Patrol (CAP). Civilian volunteers – with a passion for flight, science, and engineering – led the program highlighting STEM careers in aviation, space, cyber security, emergency services, and the military. The whole organization is powered by a team of dedicated civilian volunteers with a passion for aviation and STEM education. If you know of a student, 12-years and up, that has in interest in aviation, would like a chance to fly a plane, work towards their pilot license, attend leadership encampments, career academies, and more, visit http://www.ohwg.cap.gov/.

Aerospace Officer Donna Herald, Lieutenant Casey Green, and Lieutenant Colonel David Dlugiewicz volunteered their time and aviation skills to lead our youth into exploring the history of the Civil Air Patrol, emphasize the value of civic engagement, and underscore the growing deficient of pilots and aerospace specialist in the workforce.

Physics Concepts, Bernoulli Principle on Air Pressure Differential Theory Challenges

The CAP lessons built on previous STEM Club programming that taught physic concepts, the law of gravity, and re-instilled aircraft principal axes, such as the friction, center of gravity, and coding parrot drones challenges. Lieutenant Colonel Dlugiewicz taught the discussed Bernoulli Principle (an air pressure differential theory) and Sir Isaac Newton and the laws of motion and lift. The students engaged in a hands-on activity such as filling an air bag with one breath, leaving a gap between their mouth and the bag to allow a vacuum to form, demonstrating Bernoulli’s principle.

Part of a Airplane and Axis Challenges

Lieutenant Casey Green discussed the parts of an airplane focusing on the components that control an aircraft’s moment and direction. The students broke into groups and rotated between two stations. The first engaged the students in building paper airplane that they cut strategic slits into. The students experimented by folding different components of their airplanes to change and control the overall direction of their paper airplanes. The second station engaged the students in two different sets of CAP flight simulators to further the students’ understandings of the aviation principles taught in the program. The flight simulators provided a semi authentic experience that helps young pilots learn to fly.

Flight Simulator Challenges

Our community has some amazing young minds that are thinking and embrace the many dynamic career pathways of a STEMist. Please get involved and support more STEM programming in your community, it matters.

 

Developing the 21st Century Skillset through Learning and Building Electric Circuits

By: Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator

Our STEM Club focuses on developing a lifelong learning mindset that supports our youth in exploring exciting STEM careers and promoting an engaged life. The 21st Century Skillset is a cycle of applied learning, critical thinking, collaboration, and learning by doing. Our STEM Challenges build foundational literacy skills, competencies, and character qualities that are critical to our day-to-day lives, how youth look at complex challenges, and how youth deal with their changing environment while retaining a growth mindset of persistence and grit. Below is an image that highlights important life skills that students and parents can work towards attaining.

September’s STEM Club: Day 1

Wondering what a club day looks like? Here’s a quick video, STEM in action. Try to listen to the communication going on, productive chaos.

Make sure to like us on Facebook, OSU Extension posts STEM Club Albums for parents who want to stay engaged!

September focused on two hands-on electric circuit challenges. The first engages students in designing and building an LED Display (light emitting diode) to light up their initials. Students learn basic electrical design components, how to read an electrical schematic, how to interpret an engineering data sheet, how to design the circuit, and finally how to build a LED Display Board! OSU Professor, Betty Lise Anderson, of The OSU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering came down from campus each week to teach the electrical outreach activity she developed. Many thanks to her and her STEM team! Dr. Anderson is amazing and generous with her time, knowledge, and materials. To learn more about Dr. Anderson or the department click here. Below is an image of the LED Display and a sheet explaining how to read the pin connection table, and understanding an electric schematic and basic electrical symbology. Each student determines which of the 16 segments of the LED display they need to connect resisters in their bread board.

Mentorship Benefit

Our program benefits immensely not just by our STEM Educators and OSU Extension’s partnership, but by the high school mentors that come and make the difference in young people’s lives by offering stable relationships to support students’ academic and social development. Below one high school mentor, Summer, came to assist despite it being Homecoming week. She received a round of applause by our students as she walked into the classroom!

Teamwork

Below we have a short video that allows you to see first hand students building an LED Display, but also demonstrating team building skills – one elementary student takes a moment to help a fellow STEMist troubleshoot the correct wire connection. May seem small, but this is an extremely important skill for real world success.

 

September’s STEM Club: Day 2

Our second STEM challenge took the knowledge the students learned about electric schematics and circuits and applied it to building a LED flashlight (take home project). The challenge involved basic materials, an cardboard box, copper wire, a battery, a resister, and a LED (light omitting diode), but it also introduced a switch.

Inside the Flash Light

 

Future Engineers! O-H-I-O

 

October’s STEM Club will involved a little Chemistry in Action!