2010 Annual Science Report

Arizona State University Reporting  |  SEP 2009 – AUG 2010

EPO Activity: Education and Public Outreach - Task 1 - Informal Education

Project Progress

The Follow the Elements project offered several informal education opportunities for K-12 students and teachers: 1) Fall 2009 Mars Educator Conference (September 26, 2009), 2) Yellowstone Teacher Field Institute (July 16-August 1, 2010), 3) the Exxon Mobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp (June 5-17, 2010), and 4) Astrobiology Virtual Field Trip.These programs took place in South Australia, at ASU’s Tempe campus, and in the field at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Mars Education K-12 Mars Teacher Conference, To the Moon, Mars, and Beyond!
Astrobiology partnered with the Mars Education Program in the annual Fall teacher training event at ASU’s Memorial Union on September 26, 2009. This conference attracted 169 educators from the Phoenix and surrounding areas to participate in full day professional development program that featured NASA mission updates (Figure 1), special exhibits, and hands-on activity sessions. The Follow the Elements project was a featured exhibitor at the Conference with a video display staffed by PI, Dr. Ariel Anbar and Project Manager, Elizabeth McHugh. Astrobiology materials (NASA solar system lithograph set and ASU Astrobiology bookmark) were included in the teacher materials.

Astrobiology Teacher Field Institute at Yellowstone National Park
A summer pilot project, the Astrobiology Teacher Field Institute, was supported with a supplemental grant from NAI to bring a small group of elementary, middle and high school teachers to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming for two weeks (July 16-August 1, 2010). The goals of this project were two fold: 1) to improve teacher content knowledge by involving them in NASA-supported research program, and 2) to involve teachers in the development of a web-based Yellowstone virtual field trip and associated K-12 curriculum. Five elementary and secondary education teachers (three from Arizona and two from Illinois) joined ASU and Montana State University (MSU) researchers to study the thermal environments at Yellowstone (Figures 2, 3 and 4). The teachers also worked with media specialist, Geoffrey Bruce to gain insight into image capture technologies for the development of the virtual field trip. Currently, these teachers are working with Wendy Taylor on curriculum development projects for the Yellowstone virtual field trip. The Arizona teachers from this group have also been invited to help teach an astrobiology summer camp for ASU’s College for Kids in July 2011.

Exxon Mobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp
ASU was one of 30 universities selected to host the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp – a two-week, free-of-charge summer science camp for academically talented fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students from Arizona (Figure 5). The camp is part of ASU’s expanding efforts to promote interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics among young students. The curriculum for the camp had students confronting a cosmic problem: “How can we protect all life on Earth from the catastrophic collision of a massive asteroid? If we can’t stop the impact, how will we find and establish a new home on another world in our solar system?” Students studied Mars and the Moon as potential homes for humankind. Astrobiology was one of many topics covered during this camp and will be the focus of a new summer camp series through ASU’s College for Kids in the summer of 2011.

Astrobiology Virtual Field Trip
The Follow the Elements EPO program includes the development of several Astrobiology Virtual Field Trips (VFTs) to locations that are relevant to the team’s research and to the public-at-large. Virtual field trips allow students to interact with immersible, media-rich reconstructions of real physical settings. Already-planned VFTs include cyberlearning trips to Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and Cuatro Cienegas (Mexico) to study the extremes of life and to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia to examine fossils of the earliest multicellular animals – the Ediacara fauna – and their environmental setting. In all these cases, biological activity was shaped by variations in the distribution of bioessential elements, either in space (YNP and Cuatro Cienegas) or in time (Ediacara). We are already exploring some VFT technological elements in prototype form, with support from the NASA Astrobiology Institute Teams at ASU and MIT. Specifically, Anbar and Taylor, working with Carol Oliver (Australian Centre Astrobiology) Geoffrey Bruce (media consultant) and the MIT EPO team, are developing a virtual exploration of the Ediacara fauna in the Flinders region of South Australia (the Ediacara fauna are the oldest animal fossils). The team participated in a trip to South Australia last April 2010 to collect images and video footage for the VFT project. Using this footage a prototype was developed that combines Flash-based immersible spherical imagery with ultra high-resolution gigapixel imagery in a web-embedded format. This proof-of-concept prototype can be experienced at: http://habitableworlds.courses.asu.edu/VFT_dev.html (Figure 6).