The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

Eighth Graders Win NASA TechRise Student Challenge

Fay School received notification this month that a team of Fay eighth graders is one of 60 winning teams in the third NASA Future Engineers TechRise Student Challenge. 

The NASA Future Engineers TechRise Student Challenge is a nationwide contest to engage students in technology, science, and space exploration. The challenge offers hands-on insight into the design and test process used by NASA-supported researchers. The student teams, composed of students in sixth to 12th-grade students at American public, private, or charter schools, will work together to turn their proposed science and technology experiments into reality ahead of NASA-sponsored suborbital flight tests this summer. Their experiments will fly on one of two commercial suborbital flight platforms: a high-altitude balloon operated by World View of Tucson, Arizona, or the Xodiac rocket-powered lander operated by Astrobotic of Pittsburgh. 

This year, winning teams include about 490 students representing 46 states and territories. A full list of winning teams is available on the TechRise website. Each team receives a flight box to house their experiment, technical support from Future Engineers, and an assigned spot for their experiments on a suborbital flight test scheduled for this summer. Winning proposals address a wide variety of science and technology challenges, including studying the effects of stratospheric conditions, such as solar and ionizing radiation on plant seeds; testing radiation shielding materials; and using sensors such as thermal cameras and lidar to map a simulated lunar surface.  

Earlier this fall, a team of Fay eighth graders worked together to brainstorm an experiment and submit a TechRise proposal. The team composed of Carter C. (Hopkinton, MA), Joey H. (Natick, MA), Sean L. (Southborough, MA), Mia L. (Boxborough, MA), Luca W. (Northborough, MA), George U. (Framingham, MA) and led by Conner W. (Weston, MA) - was selected to move forward. Their proposal, entitled "Generosity - Using a High Altitude Balloon Experiment to Study Radiation and DNA Repair Pathway in Yeast,” proposes an experiment to learn more about the impact of high-altitude radiation on yeast, which has many molecular similarities to human cells. Their experiment revolves around using yeast as a model organism to study DNA repair mechanisms in high radiation environments similar to those on Mars. The students will explore how yeast survives under such conditions, which could unlock secrets to human DNA repair and survival in space.

In the coming weeks, the Fay team will meet with advisors from Future Engineers and will work through the NASA TechRise Introductory Learning Modules to develop the foundational skills needed to build a payload. Throughout the spring, the Fay team will meet weekly with mentors from the NASA TechRise engineering team regarding the design, development, and build of their experiment. The students will be building their payload in Fay’s Center for Creativity & Design, a 7,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art space that is the hub of the School’s Creativity and Design Program.

Student experiments tested on the high-altitude balloon will experience approximately four hours of flight time at approximately 70,000 feet with exposure to Earth’s upper atmosphere, high-altitude radiation, and perspective views of Earth. During flight, they will experience the stratosphere’s unique thermal and atmospheric environment, providing conditions that ground-based testing cannot replicate. The high-altitude balloon will also allow payloads to observe the surface below them and collect data on land features such as vegetation and bodies of water. 

“I am immensely proud and excited for our students to be selected as winners in this year’s NASA TechRise challenge,” says Xiaohu Zhao, Upper School Science Teacher and the students’ project mentor. “Their journey from brainstorming innovative ideas to discussing potential Martian colonization has been truly inspiring. Being recognized on a national platform like this is a testament to their hard work, dedication, and the countless hours they have invested in the project.”

A group of approximately 200 volunteer judges with expertise in engineering, space, and Earth science reviewed entries and selected the nationwide winners. Judges evaluated proposals based on experiment originality, its impact on education or society, feasibility within the allotted timeframe and budget, and the quality of the build plan. Criteria were also designed to encourage equitable student participation and geographic representation, and scoring included additional points for Title I-eligible schools.

Managed by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, and administered by Future Engineers, TechRise is designed to inspire a deeper understanding of Earth’s atmosphere, surface features, and climate. It also provides students the opportunity to learn more about space exploration, coding, electronics, and the value of test data.

TechRise is one of many NASA Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing efforts within STMD offering opportunities to participate in America’s space program.
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