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NorthGate College project ventures into space

Monday, June 16, 2014
Some students from Northgate College in a science workshop. PHOTO COURTESY NORTHGATE COLLEGE

On June 26, a science project conceived by 17 young Northgate College (NGC) students will enter space on board a US rocket launched from the Wallops Space Facility in Virginia. 


The St Augustine-based school earned the privilege when the young team came up with a way of squeezing a scientific experiment into a four centimetre cube for testing in space. 


Thirteen year old, budding scientist, Zachary Joel, put the challenge like this: “Our school’s declaration says that we are global and borderless and I learned that we can be borderless inside of a four centimetre cube.” 


The college topped international competitors entering the US-based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) initiative Cubes in Space, named for the invention of Hungarian sculptor Erno Rubik, who came up with the Rubik’s Cube in 1974. 


The T&T school won in the Top Design category. 


“We knew that it was something we wanted to give the students an opportunity to do so we decided to enter,” Northgate director, Yolande La Pierre, said despite late notice from the Ministry of Education–three days before the deadline for an expression of interest.


The school director said “the idea behind the competition was for students to move a concept from the design stage to actual execution and see the application of curriculum content in everyday life.” 


“They (students) had to brainstorm which ideas could work best and conduct research into space exploration,” La Pierre told T&T Guardian. This, she said, was challenging since, “we do not have a space programme in the Caribbean.” 


“They also interviewed engineers and physicists to get some guidelines on how the project could move from a concept to an actual experiment,” she added. “They were not given many parameters except the size and that it had to be something that could pass the strict safety rules of the Space Academy.”


And that is what they did. 


“Apart from all the science, I learned a lot about patience and sacrifice. It took a lot of patience and diligence to put all the small pieces together. And it took a lot of sacrifice in giving up all our time to come and work on this project. But in the end, it was all worth it,” said 14-year-old Form Three student Brandon Wooding. 


The Ionization Investigation project proposal written by the students argued that “on our planet now, natural resources are becoming increasingly limited and it makes sense for us to continue looking for new, clean, energy sources. Humans have barely started to explore the limits of space, and this is where the solution to our problem may lie. Well, almost in space. 


“The ionosphere is at the edge of our atmosphere. At this upper part of the atmosphere, solar radiation causes atoms to lose and gain electrons creating ions and also leaving loose electrons,” the proposal said. 


“With our experiment, we aim to investigate the possibility of a new, renewable energy source. We plan to do this by looking at the effect of the ionosphere on the voltage produced by an electromagnetic generator.” 


Sebastian Rudden, a Form Three student involved in the project said, “In constructing the cube I learned that we have to do everything carefully and not rush things down because if things weren’t done properly, the final experiment might not have worked.” 


La Pierre said the victory was significant not only for the college but for the country. 


“As a nation we are known for many things on the positive side we are known for our cultural creativity, warm climate, friendly demeanour and higher standard of living in the region due to the hydrocarbon sector,” she said. 


“On the negative we have many concerns crime, corruption, nepotism, youth delinquency, environmental degradation,” the NGC director added. 


“I think T&T can certainly benefit from the positive spin this has on our capacity for science and technology and the development of our human capital. 


“In a small country with no space exploration programme in our region, with limited physical resources our students have been able to produce an experiment that has real-world implications and may possibly change the course of history,” La Pierre said. 


Fourteen-year-old Conrad Taitt put it like this, “I learned that it is important for schools to participate in these kinds of competitions because if you don’t participate you never know what you might come up with and what you come up with might change the course of the world.”


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