Students from six Sydney Catholic high schools will take their knowledge of coding above and beyond – to space.
Education start-up Quberider will send devices to the International Space Station in November, programmed with 60 experiments. Students from 40 NSW high schools have coded ‘Asimov’, a small computer with 10 sensors, using Python computer language to collect data on topics including radiation and the Earth’s magnetic field.
Our Lady of Mercy College Burraneer, De La Salle College Caringbah, De La Salle College Revesby Heights, Clancy Catholic College West Hoxton, Holy Cross College Ryde, and Mount St Joseph Milperra are involved in the ‘Create for Space’ project.
It was designed by Quberider duo Solange Cunin, a mathematics and aerospace engineering student at the University of NSW, and Sebastian Chaoui a mechatronics engineering student at the University of Technology Sydney. Theirs is the first overseas launch certificate ever issued by the Australian government, signed by Science and Industry minister Christopher Pyne in May.
Testing pulls in Maths and English and Science. It’s one of those true STEM projects.
De La Salle Caringbah Science co-ordinator Sylvia Eleftheriades’ background in analytical chemistry has helped as two groups of students in Years 8 to 10 have mapped out their projects. The Year 10 students’ concept to measure high-energy radiation has pushed the limits of what the equipment they are coding is capable of.
“What they are coming up with in their experiments even the developers haven’t done yet,” she said. “They were talking about time dilation experiments, but the technical people who put the board together said it was probably not possible for the hardware to cope with it, so they took a tangent.
“The collaboration between the students is amazing. Each student has something different to bring to the table.”
Mrs Eleftheriades said the project had been a big learning curve for students because the technology is very similar to what was used for her honours project at The University of NSW, when specialising in sensors and automated analysis. It has also highlighted how difficult it is to collect data in space.
“There are so many different areas that it brings them into, particularly data logging from grassroots – actually looking at how the sensors work, how we collect the data, and the limitations,” Mrs Eleftheriades said. “Astronomy is often a very dry area. There’s not a lot of practical work beyond going to observatories, so actually collecting data from space and putting it in context is really beneficial.
“To be able to code you have got to be able to write instructions correctly and put things in the right order, so it teaches them syntax in terms of language and language structure. Testing pulls in Maths and English and Science. It’s one of those true STEM projects.”
It has been a learning process of trial and error, exactly like real-world science.
Year 10 student Daniel Maher, 15, said his group were curious about the level of radiation astronauts were exposed to, but struggled to know how to detect it without a radiation sensor on the board.
“We did plenty of background research and actually figured out that we could use the camera as a basic radiation detector,” he said.
“We’ve emailed back and forth with the people running the project asking them questions. There are libraries of pre-written code we can pull in and use to run calculations and calibrations of the camera to get it to exactly what we need. We ran our first test with a radioactive sample. We got a very, very small reading but it was proof of concept. It actually works.”
Daniel said it was good to see the current preoccupation with Science and Technology filter into classrooms.
“To be honest I think that at the rate technology is being utilised in society, you wouldn’t be able to continue advancements if you didn’t bring it into schools early on so you get kids learning how to code and to think like a programmer would,” he said. “They’re the generation that are going to lead the next wave of innovations, so I think it’s a really great thing.
“We’ve got an amazing opportunity through Quberider – an Australian first. It’s all run by young people who just love science and wanted to do something practical.”
The ISS takes 90 minutes to orbit Earth. Students hope to collect a full revolution of data – about six 15-minute blocks.
Year 8 student Joel Cassidy’s group aimed to see if the Earth’s magnetic field changes during a lunar eclipse. “It’s really interesting and intriguing,” he said of the project. “I’ve always been interested in coding and now I’ve branched off into this.
“Asimov is a board that is going into a box with a glass screen. On the other side of the glass screen will be five objects – fluorescent painted sand, a paperclip and others. When it is up there it will take photos read temperature, humidity, whatever you told it to do.”
Year 8 students from De La Salle Caringbah and Our Lady of Mercy College Burraneer have also collaborated to further their coding skills.
Our Lady of Mercy College Burraneer Science coordinator Tess Waterhouse said the students involved had worked hard to meet a May 20 project deadline and gained confidence in coding through exposure.
“It’s a pretty amazing program. It has definitely been a learning process of trial and error, exactly like real-world science,” she said. “This is able to give them a step into the future and some skills in a universal language.
“That’s the way the world is going and there’s definitely a push from the government to learn coding as well, so it gives the girls a real opportunity to meet the demands and the expectations that are coming their way.”
OLMC Year 8 student Grace Strik, 12, said the project had been a great opportunity to extend her knowledge of the universe.
“Overall we’re trying to investigate which organisms would be able to stay alive on the space station,” she said. “We’re testing the temperature and acceleration, but we’re expecting a colder temperature since it is out in space.
“The project is very authentic because it’s challenging in some parts. It’s different and maybe this question hasn’t been answered before. It’s a very futuristic thought – that if other planets are inhabitable then we can know what organisms to take over there because of this question some Year 8 students have done.”
Other ‘Create for Space’ projects at Sydney Catholic schools
Mount St Joseph Milperra:
Students will film a paper clip in zero gravity to investigate the effect of the Earth’s Magnetic field on magnetic objects. A second group will look at the effect of cosmic rays on astronauts, programming the Asimov sensors to measure electromagnetic radiation other than light aboard the ISS and compare it to readings on Earth.
Clancy Catholic College West Hoxton:
Students will investigate how human bodies react in the space environment.
De La Salle College Revesby Heights:
Students will test Einstein’s theory of relativity by comparing the International Space Station (ISS) clock to Earth-based clocks.