August 13, 2010
Ten, nine, eight… NASA, we have lift off!
by Alison Duffy
UMMS Office of Communications
Goddard Girls participated in a live video conference with Liz Warren,
PhD, an International Space Station medical operations scientist during a
trip to UMMS.|
“Goddard Girls” were rocketing around UMass Medical School on Thursday,
August 5, as part of a weeklong science exploration camp created this
year through the Massachusetts Summer of Innovation (MASOI) program.
Massachusetts was one of four states selected by the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Space Grant network to boost
interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM,
education for middle school students and teachers through NASA’s Summer
of Innovation pilot program. MASOI is managed by the Massachusetts Space
Grant Consortium (MASCG), which is based at MIT and consists of
colleges and universities and other organizations across the
commonwealth. MASCG is one of 52 education consortia that make up the
Space Grant network.
Earlier this year, NASA’s program provided a
$1.5 million grant to just six sites in Massachusetts, including UMass
Medical School, which was the only non-engineering/space institution to
receive funding. The Goddard Girls program, named in recognition of
Worcester native Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, was
developed by the UMMS Regional Science Resource Center (RSRC) and Girls,
Inc., and provided two weeks of STEM-related activities for middle
school girls throughout the region.
“In May, NASA administrator
and former astronaut Charles Bowden met with Governor Deval Patrick to
announce the grant winners,” said Sandy Mayrand, RSRC director. “I was
so proud that our proposal was selected along with five other remarkable
engineering and science programs. I think it was impressive for these
girls to come to the Medical School and see biomedical research and
health care in the context of space travel and NASA. I think it opened
their eyes.” (To read a related story about the grant, click here
MASOI projects are being conducted this summer by a number of schools
in partnership with the University of Massachusetts, Framingham State
College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Tufts University and MIT.
MASOI projects are required to have NASA content including robotics,
earth and space science, astrophysics and engineering. The projects are
also required to develop ways to keep students and teachers engaged
during the school year, and to track participants’ performance through
Mayrand said that this summer, the Goddard Girls focused
on “the world of space travel, its impact on the human body and how we
use science, creativity and perseverance to solve its challenges.” The
girls, in grades 5 through 9, toured the UMMS Simulation Center—which,
according to their blog on the Girls, Inc. Web site, was “pretty
cool”—and solved design challenges developed by NASA specifically for
this program. Mayrand and RSRC Science Coordinator Karin Spahl also
utilized NASA materials to help the girls build models of a crew
exploration vehicle and design moon habitats. The girls visited the
planetarium at Worcester’s EcoTarium, and, at MIT, explored the process
of space suit design and experienced the Moon Walker.
|The Goddard Girls also got to experience the UMMS Simulation Center this summer|
highlight of their trip to UMMS was a live video conference with Liz
Warren, PhD, an International Space Station medical operations scientist
at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Warren taught the
girls the difference between zero gravity and microgravity, and why
astronauts—who can spend up to six months on the space
station—experience physical changes such as decreases in bone density
and blood volume, loss of muscle mass and a slight decrease in the size
and strength of the heart while in space. She discussed NASA’s efforts
to better understand and mitigate the long-term effects on astronauts’
health—and what these findings may mean for Earth-bound people—and
described the somewhat quirky problems of exercising in space: “How can
we jog or do pushups without gravity? We’d just float away!”
girls asked insightful questions, including “How do you sleep in
space?” (floating, Warren said, usually very comfortably though
“sometimes it’s weird not to have a pillow”) and “How do you drink in
space?” (with a straw that pinches closed to prevent spills or leaks).
They also learned that drink pouches and food pouches are outfitted with
Velcro tabs so they can be attached to space suits, and, although the
astronauts do get to have M&Ms, most foods are soft and sticky
because wayward crumbs could float into and damage sensitive equipment.
The girls also asked about the education and training needed not just to
become an astronaut—most agreed they might miss their families too much
on a six-month tour of space—but also to become a NASA scientist or
engineer, or an astronauts’ physician.
Raji R. Patel, MASOI
director and MSCG co-director, was delighted to have UMMS involved in
the program and to experience a group of students different from the
graduate students she generally works with at MIT. “This was my first
foray into any such program with middle schoolers,” she said, adding
that she found the young students refreshing and the RSRC impressive.
“The basic human curiosity that is so important in science is
wonderfully evident in these girls and I’ve been thrilled to work with
UMass to help foster their enthusiasm and excitement about STEM
At the end of the summer, NASA will evaluate the
Summer of Innovation program with an eye toward implementing a
comprehensive program for 2011 and beyond.
This is the final installment of the weeklong series "Summer Programs at UMMS." To read the prior story, Summer Undergraduate Researchers Reap Rewards, click here.