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Student Researchers and Educators Partner with NASA for Unparalleled Results
The TEREZA Association works with a GLOBE school to organize a three-day GLOBE Games event. Each year the TEREZA Association works with a GLOBE school to organize a three-day GLOBE Games event that generates community-wide participation. Students compete in disciplines, or "games," using protocols such as measuring surface ozone, working with a GPS or measuring soil temperature. Credit: NASA
A project with "unparalleled success" in obtaining data by students and educators can thank, in part, a team at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., who developed a protocol for taking surface ozone measurements.

The protocol has been used in more than 120 schools in 13 countries, and is one of more than 50 used by the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program, an international student observation campaign launched in 1994 to enhance environmental awareness.

"What jumped out at me, when I was first asked to look at the student data, was how well the data captured an important air pollution episode," says John Creilson, a research scientist at NASA Langley.

Creilson evaluates the student-collected data, a seasonal record over a five-year period consistent with measurements taken at the same time by the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, in his article, "Surface Ozone Measured at GLOBE Schools in the Czech Republic" published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, or BAMS.

The BAMS article highlights results from two schools in the Czech Republic that captured the data during the summer of 2003, when the European Environment Agency reported an exceptionally long-lasting episode of high surface ozone with record-breaking levels.

"Findings such as this help highlight potential applications of the data by the scientific community," adds Creilson. "The findings also show the students how their data can fit into the big (scientific) picture."

The big picture for Czech Republic schools has to do with a national emphasis on understanding and protecting the environment. Since the late 1980s, the TEREZA Association, which was formed to protect natural locations in and around Prague, expanded its reach to promote environmental education throughout the country. The Ministry of Education has integrated environmental education across the curriculum and at all grade levels.

Creilson and his co-authors believe this emphasis is the foundation for Czech student and educator success in collecting scientifically valid measurements, and that the protocol has been an important part.

In 1998, a team of scientists and educators from NASA Langley wrote a proposal to GLOBE to develop a surface ozone protocol. Jack Fishman, Irene Ladd, Margaret Pippin, Russell DeYoung and Linda Bush joined one another with a common ideal. The Surface Measurements of Ozone for GLOBE (SMOG) team faced the challenge of providing students a reliable, consistent method for gathering data while, at the same time, making the method affordable.

The protocol is used to gather measurements of tropospheric ozone, which is produced both naturally and as a result of human activity. Tropospheric ozone can be produced in high concentrations in and near urban areas, creating a harmful blanket of pollution commonly referred to as smog. This smog causes illness and agricultural injury, and is an important contributor to global warming.

Students follow the protocol to collect an atmospheric sample on a piece of chemically treated paper that changes color (similar to the same principle as litmus paper) based upon ozone exposure. They then use a scanner that essentially quantifies the color much better than can be done by the human eye.

"The concept of 'seeing' trace gases in the atmosphere that are otherwise colorless was emphasized in the science education lesson plans that were developed," explained co-author Jack Fishman, a senior atmospheric scientist with NASA Langley's Science Directorate and principal investigator of the eight-year project. "The visualization really brought home the point to both teachers and even younger children."

Having an educator as part of the SMOG team was essential to creating an effective instructional component for the protocol.

"Unlike many of the other protocols being developed under GLOBE," said Fishman, "we had a true educator [Irene Ladd] playing a significant role on our team who really could relate to the classroom teacher, and in turn, could develop the tools and lessons necessary to make our program successful."

Commonly understood among educators is that students learn more by doing. Implementing GLOBE curricula, developed by scientists and educators, improves understanding because students are engaged in real science.

"Students can create visualizations and manipulate data in a variety of ways on the [GLOBE] server," says co-author Irene Ladd, a retired New Hampshire educator still actively promoting classroom and individual studies using the NASA Langley-developed protocol. "They can download raw data and with these tools perform independent studies and integrate the information into a broader research study."

The student-collected data Creilson discusses did indeed become a part of broader research. A Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS) student, under the guidance of Margaret Pippin, co-author and atmospheric scientist, was doing a research project preparing the data. Those project results then became a part of Creilson's article.

"There's a significant educational connection here," says Pippin. "The [BAMS] article is very interesting because the data and discovery are all student-based. There are students involved at all levels, with middle school kids providing data that an undergraduate student analyzes as her research project."

The GLOBE program gives students the opportunity to partner with scientists in authentic research and contribute to the "larger science picture."

NASA Langley's surface ozone protocol benefits from GLOBE's community of partnerships, which spans across a variety of groups, including satellite missions, universities, science organizations and museums.

Related links:

> View the BAMS article abstract
> Download the BAMS article pdf

Denise Stefula
NASA's Langley Research Center