lunar pic
Winning ExMASS team. Front row: Thomas Nguyen, Vince Tran, Most Yeasmin, Isabel Hunt; Row 2: Kenneth Lin, Galen Farmer, Daniel Gordon; Row 3: Zachary Thornton, Chris DeMott

A group of Upper Darby High School students will be having an out of this world experience starting Tuesday as they compete at the Exploration Science Forum with their original research project at the NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

“Basalt Thickness in Mare Tranquillitatis Using Two Methods” is the research being presented by members of the high school’s extracurricular Lunar Club from July 20-21 while competing against research by college students from around the country.

The Lunar Club’s rising sophomore and junior students and two faculty mentors are the only high school-level representatives to be invited to the Exploration Science Forum this year, earning their place by winning in a nationwide high school competition through a NASA Lunar and Planetary Institute program called ExMASS (Exploration of the Moon and Asteroids by Secondary Students).

“This amazing experience gave the students the opportunity to conduct authentic, open-inquiry research and communicate that research in both written and oral form,” said Lunar Club mentor and high school teacher Roseann Burns.

Burns, high school vo-tech coordinator Josh Taffel and planetary geologist Dr. Amanda Nahm guided the students through the research over the course of the school year on this project.

In layman’s terms, the club investigated the thickness of the volcanic rock from lava that set on the moon in a specific area deemed the mare tranquillitaties, one of the dark plains commonly seen in photographs of the moon that was formed through ancient volcanoes.

The students used the pre-mare and post-mare crater methods, an original isopach (thickness variation) map from 1974 and two isopach maps created with 3D software to conduct the original study which was done from the start of the school year through April.

The Lunar Club concluded that the methods were good for finding high and low points, but not their values, and there were inaccuracies in basalt thickness magnitude.

“Reviewing the research conducted, it is evident that more work needs to be done in refining methods to determine basalt thickness,” read the club’s research poster they presented to NASA. “If both methods could be combined to create one isopach map, greater detail could be found.”

Looking at basalt thickness examines the thermal history of the moon and can be a process to study planetary formations of other planets.

In the five years they’ve been a club, they’ve entered the ExMASS research contest every year, earning the runner-up spot in 2013.

This year, Burns was in it to win it.

“I said, ‘we’re going to do it this year.’ I knew our project was really good from the beginning. As long as we could be really thorough about everything and we put the time in, I knew we could do it,” said Burns.

During a live video conference with NASA scientists, The Lunar Club presented their project alongside high schools from Omaha, Nebraska, Commack, New York and Springfield, Missouri.

“At no moment did I think ‘we don’t have a chance’, but I did feel that it could go either way,” said club member Daniel Gordon when seeing what the other schools presented.

“I think each project was unique enough for us to not think, ‘we should have done that, we should have done this’,” said incoming junior Thomas Nguyen. “I think doing our own thing was good enough for us.”

After the scientists met in private to discuss the presentations, they continued the video conference with all of the participating schools they made a brief statement to announce the winner: Upper Darby.

“I think we all just smiled and waited until the other high schools were off the video conference and then we started jumping up and down,” said Lunar Club member Chris DeMott.

“I think I screamed immediately,” Gordon added.

It was their first place finish that automatically entered them to present at the Exploration Science Forum this month.

The students admitted that the competition results were “surprising” and that they never anticipated accomplishing all that they have in their first, or even second, year of high school.

“I’m really excited. I think this will be a great opportunity to be able to see more in the scientific community. There will be lots of opportunities there to see research that’s being done today, the current exploration of space and the advancement with it,” said DeMott, an incoming junior. “This isn’t an opportunity we could have gotten anywhere else.”

The project was not an easy feat for a group that only met after school throughout the year. The students had to compile hundreds of pieces of data and realize what was important or what could easily be “chopped off” from their findings, learn new resource technology and create their own maps.

They did all of this while balancing regular class work and other activities the students were a part of. It wasn’t uncommon for the club to be in the high school until nine o’clock at night in the week leading up to submitting their poster for consideration for ExMASS.

Ultimately, it paid off.

“It’s great that the students got to do real research and real science. It’s not often that students get that opportunity, and to get real feedback from scientists was great,” said Burns.

Posted by: Soderman/SSERVI Staff
Source: SSERVI Team/Kevin Tustin

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