Science students follow a satellite in space
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (WVLT) – Science students learn with the guidance of mentors as they follow their tiny satellite orbiting above the earth. The RamSat The device, named after the Rams from Robertsville Middle School, has orbiting the earth since its launch from the International Space Station in June. They tweak the camera to get pictures of forests in the Great Smoky Mountains area around Gatlinburg where Forest fires destroyed hundreds of acres in 2016. The few photos taken by the satellite so far show an area north of Gatlinburg, so scientists are helping students reorient RamSat with computer coding and radio communication.
“Right here, I think it’s Lake Superior,” said 8th grade student Levi Norman, pointing to a large screen showing photos taken by RamSat on a trip over Gatlinburg. Because the satellite was pointing its camera north of the Smokies, it captured an image that was not precise enough for the study of the Smokies Forests Project.
Still, the mentors say there is still time to correct the orientation of the satellite in order to get the necessary photos. Meanwhile, a lot of data has been collected with the help of amateur radio operators like Jim Bogard, retired ORNL physicist, who said, “Oh, we’re going to get these images! “
ORNL Data Engineer Ian Goethert said: “The data we are getting from RamSat is excellent! He explained that each data point helps track the satellite, even temperatures that show how close it is to the sun. “If we don’t monitor this, we don’t really know where he is or what he’s doing,” said Norman, who is the youngest of several classes of students learning from the project.
Instructor Todd Livesay has been leading middle school students for years in a class he calls Engineering by Design, which has received accolades for his innovation in STEM. Livesay said it had been a long journey, including rebuilding the satellite after a burnt out computer circuit was discovered. “I can tell the kids when they’re having difficulty, I’ll tell them, at least you haven’t worked for four years and have to take your satellite apart. And they love it. Livesay now divides her time between college and high school. He is developing a RamSat project program that will eventually be shared so that other schools can use it.
ORNL scientist Peter Thornton led a team of mentors who dedicated countless hours to the students throughout the RamSat project. They regularly visit college classrooms and provide weekly enrichment time for students to gain intensive insight into satellite progress. Thornton said that teaching physics and advanced mathematical concepts to middle school students begins by associating simple concepts such as exploration, photography and temperatures. “So we’re just trying to relate it to things they’re already comfortable with and explain that yes, you can do that in space. “
Grade 8 student Paige Lawing explained that she is inspired by the project she has just seen up close. “I want to be a software engineer. Another 8th grade student, Norman, said: “I love science!” The RamSat project has so far touched the lives of more than 200 students in the Oak Ridge school system and garnered national attention.
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