Young scientists land at NASA

The inaugural IGS Science Tour 2016 takes in a visit to NASA; other Science labs, museums and observatories; and natural and geological wonders such as the Grand Canyon.

The inaugural IGS Science Tour 2016 takes in a visit to NASA; other Science labs, museums and observatories; and natural and geological wonders such as the Grand Canyon. All facets tie in with the high school Science curriculum. By all accounts, the team is enjoying this amazing experience across the Pacific. #limitlesslearning

The following full Science in USA Tour report comes from Head of Science, Stacey Preston:

We started the tour in Orlando where we were met with a balmy 38-degree heat and what felt like 200% humidity – after arriving at the hotel late, we had our first meal out at TGI Fridays and then an early night ready for the tour to start. Our first day was spent at the Kennedy Space Centre – the tourist park that forms part of NASA’s Cape Canaveral Launch site. The students were let loose for the day where they were free to peruse the many exhibits including seeing the actual Atlantis Space shuttle on display, sitting on a space toilet, experiencing what it feels like to be in the shuttle when it takes off in the flight simulator, listening to and meeting an astronaut in the Q and A sessions and enjoying time in the ‘rocket garden’. Of course, we couldn’t visit Orlando without experiencing a menacing thunder storm – watching the storm clouds roll in over the rocket garden as we waited for our bus was a sight that will not be easily forgotten. Not to mention being quarantined in the visitor centre while the cloud to ground lightning dispersed.

Day 2 took us to Universal Studios for a day of rides, exhibits, great food and of course another thunder storm!! We then headed back to Kennedy Space Centre the following day for a tour of the launch sites and Cape Canaveral before flying out to our next destination of Phoenix.

Phoenix was all about Geology – the massive expanse of the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater and sunset over Sedona’s impressive red rocks. The drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff was an event in itself with the landscape ever-changing from forests of cacti to dry forests similar to Australia and then wetter rainforest-like areas. Arizona seemed flat, dry and hot…so very, very hot! We visited the Meteor Crater first which is thought to have been left by an asteroid travelling at 26,000 miles per hour that collided with earth 50,000 years ago. The crater that remains is one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and 550 feet deep. When it was created, energy equivalent to 20 million tons of TNT exploding was released. This giant hole in the ground was nothing compared to seeing the Grand Canyon. This mile-deep, 227-mile-long canyon was carved by the Colorado River. We met our guide on the South rim and embarked on a short four-mile hike around the rim to Yaki point. Along the way we were told about local flora and fauna and regaled with stories of death in the canyon and the ongoing argument between scientists about the age of the canyon – 6 million or 70 million years? After a visit to the Meteorological Museum and marveling at the tiny distance around the rim we had actually walked, we headed to Lowell Observatory for the afternoon.

Lowell Observatory was founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. Since then, Lowell astronomers have discovered Pluto, collected the first evidence of the expanding Universe, and measured the motions and properties of stars, among many other achievements. Students learnt about our galaxy, examined the sun through a special solar viewing telescope and visited the iconic telescope that first discovered Pluto. This ended our time in Flagstaff and we drove back to Phoenix to fly on to our final destination of San Francisco.

Our first day in San Francisco took us up to Silicon Valley where we visited the Computer History Museum, Googleplex and NASA’s Ames Research Centre. The Computer History Museum offered a unique and interesting history of the world of computers from the very first calculators to the age of the super computer through to thoughts of self-driving cars not too distant in our future. The kids enjoyed laughing at their teachers as we reminisced using some of the primitive computer technologies on display! Ames was overshadowed by our previous visit to the Kennedy Space Centre but the model space station and associated movie offered some interesting insights into life in space.

The next day we headed to the University of California, Berkeley where our students were combined with a group of local students participating in a robotics holiday workshop. As IGS kids always do, our students settled in and started chatting to their new friends, trading slang terms and following each other on Snapchat. The groups were set a design challenge of creating a course for a marble to travel down that would take the marble exactly 37 seconds – a time-keeping challenge that proved to be much harder than first imagined! After having lunch in the university cafeteria with their new friends we bid them farewell to attend a second robotics workshop. Here, students learnt about coding and programming a robotic arm for movement. We then headed to Sungevity – a leading developer of solar energy for a tour of their complex and explanation about how solar panels work. With so many busy, busy days up until this point, students were looking forward to Saturday – a day when they could choose to do whatever they liked in San Francisco. A range of activities were enjoyed by all, including a cable car ride, Bay Area cruise, Pier 39, China Town, Union Square and the Exploratorium at Fisherman’s Wharf, just to name a few! With only one day to fill, our kids certainly saw as much of the city as possible.

Our final day started with some last-minute shopping in Union Square followed by a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge for photos and an afternoon at Golden Gate Park. We spent our final hours in America in the California Academy of Sciences were we visited a four-storey, self-sustaining indoor rainforest, flew through space in a 360 degree planetarium, experienced a San Andreas fault slip in the earthquake simulator and saw penguins and an albino alligator.

Overall, the tour was fantastic – the right balance of awe-inspiring science and fun!!

Stacey Preston

Head of Science