Researchers work with students to create space experiments

Jun 10th, 2013

Kelly Foss

Researchers work with students to create space experiments

Just before Commander Chris Hadfield blasted off in December 2012 for a five-month mission on the International Space Station, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) invited young Canadian students to design their own science experiment for him to do while on board.

When the challenge went out, only one high school in Newfoundland and Labrador answered the call. Of the 100 submissions from across Canada, Bishops College entered three ideas, two of which made the top ten, as selected by a national panel of scientists, engineers and an astronaut.

“The contest came up and I was notified of it by the CSA,” said Professor Paul Sylvester, a planetary geochemist with the Department of Earth Sciences at Memorial University. “I got in touch with my contact Darla O’Reilly, a teacher who was working with Let’s Talk Science in St. John’s. She forwarded the information out to other science teachers in the province.”

When Bishops College came forward, Professor Sylvester and his postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Kate Souders partnered with Renate Pohl and Trevor Morris, both International Space University Alumni; Let’s Talk Science; the Johnson GEO CENTRE and the Eastern School District to help organize video planning sessions for the students.

“We had two days with the students at the Johnson Geo Centre,” said Dr. Souders. “The students did most of the work themselves, coming up with the question, then designing the experiment and planning what they were going to do in the two minute video that was part of the submission. The second day was filming and then editing.”

The winning Canadian submission asked Cmdr. Hadfield to wring out a sponge in space. That experiment was performed live on board the station. But the first Bishop’s team, made up of Stephen Squires, Mark Hewitt, Amanda Ricketts, Kirsten Gillis, David Grainger and Lesley Turpin wanted to know if it was possible to juggle in space. Their entry can be found on the LTS website at:

The second team of Andrew Mouland, Josh Lehr, Natalie Griffin, Holly Burford and Sarah Windsor challenged Cmdr. Hadfield to skip rope in space. That video can be viewed here:

For their efforts, the students received mission memorabilia and an autographed photo of Cmdr. Hadfield.

“Projects like this are a great way to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and math, because otherwise they never get beyond the phobia that these fields are hard,” said Professor Sylvester. “You have to inspire young people to get them to go into studies of these areas.”