Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
June 13, 2011
NASA Teaches Teenage Students to Reach for the Stars
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. – NASA is providing a two-week summer training camp in Astrobiology to engage and motivate teenage high school students to choose science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. NASA's Science, Technology and Exploration Program (STEP) is being offered to local students and teachers June 10-26 at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

NASA's STEP program will use the multidisciplinary field of Astrobiology to teach 28 students and seven teachers how to design a science mission that involves robotics, advanced technology and state-of-the-art instrumentation. Together, they will share the experience of working directly with scientists and engineers who understand mission-related research and development.

"NASA scientists look forward to sharing the excitement of science and discovery with students and teachers, who will be given an opportunity to learn research techniques that they will use to perform authentic experiments, while using world-class research facilities and resources," said Chris McKay, STEP project senior scientist advisor at Ames.

Managed and organized by scientists and engineers at Ames, the STEP program is an affiliate of the Advanced Studies Laboratories, a collaborative partnership of eight other research affiliates. The program is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate through the Supplemental Education Awards for ROSES Investigators Program, and has been supported by the NASA Ames Research Center, Lockheed Martin Exploration and Sciences, and the Ames Contractor Council.

NASA STEP consists of a series of science and engineering discovery lectures, as well as hands-on exploration activities. Local and virtual field trips are presented by scientists and engineers who are experts in their fields, covering a range of topics from astrochemistry and evolutionary biology to rocketry and robotics. The lectures are designed to provide participants with the background information they will need to understand the relevant science and engineering required to engage in Astrobiology.

During the two-week STEP course, participants will be given tours of a wide variety of Ames research facilities, including the Kepler mission operations center; taught a variety of laboratory techniques and conduct experiments; and enrolled in robotic and rocket workshops to help them understand the process and science needed to build a NASA mission.

By learning research and development concepts and processes, participants will experience what it is like to be involved in groundbreaking investigations and associated fieldwork at Ames. Camp activities include a lecture from a NASA scientist on microbial mats and their history as one of Earth’s earliest ecosystems. Students will be given materials to create microbial mats, and observe the high diversity of organisms and their preferred structural layering. They also will select a variable factor, such as light, temperature, pH or pollutant, write a hypothesis for an experiment, collect and record data, and compare it with a control microbial mat.

Other activities include learning how to extract DNA from a cell, and discovering why it is a critical first step for many subsequent molecular biological techniques. They also will learn about the use of light and spectroscopy during the search for life, and view the sun through a telescope.

These activities are designed to complement a weekend-long field trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park, in northeastern California. The dominant feature of the park is Lassen Peak; the largest plug dome volcano in the world, which has an environment that can be used as an analog for planetary conditions. The field experience is a key part of the program, based on and exemplifying the exploratory activities in the laboratory.

The engineering component includes robotics and programming workshops, followed by a student robotics challenge, and a rocketry workshop that concludes with a student rocket launch.

At the end of the course, students will present their projects (a mission to find life elsewhere) and attend a closing ceremony that recognizes their two-week achievements.

For more information about the STEP course, visit:

For more information about NASA Ames, visit:

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