2012 Annual Science Report

Carnegie Institution of Washington Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

EPO Activity: Student-Teacher Astrobiology Researchers (STARS)

Project Progress

In summer 2012, 10 rising high school juniors and seniors from high-minority, urban schools in Washington DC formed a team to conduct authentic scientific research on the question ‘What Organisms are Living in Extreme Environments Around Me?’ Three teachers of these students also participated. The research took place at the teaching laboratory in Carnegie’s Administration building in Washington DC and was guided by Julie Edmonds of the Carnegie Academy for Science Education. During the 6-week program, the STARs team met regularly with Carnegie and NASA scientists to learn about many of the different aspects of research in Astrobiology. A special focus this summer was on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Mission and the landing of the Curiosity rover on August 6. The STARs team learned how to design an investigation, how to plan an expedition and to collect samples aseptically, how to use the tools and techniques of microbiology, how to manage data and much more. The STARs team designed their own expedition to ‘Planet Carnegie’, devised protocols for sample collection, collected samples and analyzed their microbial composition. This research experience culminated in an oral presentation of results to an audience of peers (including Carnegie scientists).

Students were paid as part of the DC Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program and considerable emphasis was also placed on the development of appropriate workplace skills and behaviors as well career guidance and the process for college applications. Opportunities in STEM careers in general as well as within NASA in particular were highlighted. Field trips were to the National Air and Space Museum and to the laboratories of Carnegie NAI team members in Washington DC.

Carnegie astronomer, Alycia Weinberger, guides students as they examine sunlight using their hand-made spectrographs

Summer STARs student sets up agar plates to be used in the search for microbial life on 'Planet Carnegie’