Brent Cunningham, a 6th grade teacher at the Frederic A. Priff Elementary School in Waretown,  Ocean County, was surfing the internet in January looking for some ideas for his students when he came across Cubes in Space.

The program encourages middle and high school students around the world to create experiments that will be launched into space on a NASA rocket, or near-space on a zero-pressure scientific balloon.

“I was looking for ways to motivate my students and show them the connections among different sections in science,” Cunningham said. “This seemed like the perfect project for our after-school science club.”

Competing against students across the United States as well as 12 other countries, Cunningham’s students proposed four projects for consideration; three were accepted. Two were launched into space on June 21 and one will go on the balloon later this summer.

The two rocket-bound experiments were launched aboard a NASA sounding rocket from Wallop’s Flight Facility in Virginia. Several of the students attended the early morning launch and excitedly watched as the rocket containing their experiments raced into the sky and out of sight. The rocket followed a parabolic trajectory, which took it just over 97 miles high and resulted in velocities greater than 3,200 miles per hour. The rocket then returned and ended its trip about 50 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean where it was recovered. The students’ cube containing the experiments have been shipped back to Cunningham and his students for the next phase of the program.

The projects launched on the rocket focus primarily on the impact of radiation on seeds. Students wrapped lima bean seeds and Wisconsin fast plant seeds in different materials such as gold foil and aluminum before placing them in small plastic cubes that were housed in the nosecone of the rocket. Once the seeds are returned, students will grow them and study the differences among the differently wrapped seeds and the control seeds that remained in the classroom.

The lima bean seeds project will look only at the first generation of plants following the exposure to radiation but since the Wisconsin fast plant reproduces so rapidly, students will be able to examine the impact on subsequent generations.

The project that will be launched on the balloon looks at the impact of radiation on lithium ion batteries.

“Science is such a great way to motivate students,” Cunningham said. “I’m so impressed and proud of my students for getting three projects accepted. It’s a huge confidence boost for them that I hope will inspire a lifelong curiosity about science.”

Cubes in Space is a project of idoodledu, Inc., in collaboration with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility, NASA Langley Research Center, and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. For more information, go to www.cubesinspace.com.

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