BUCKHANNON — Their feet may have been planted firmly on the ground, but the kids who came to the Benedum Campus Center Saturday afternoon had an out-of-this-world experience, thanks to a special event hosted by West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Dr. Tracey DeLaney, physics professor at Wesleyan, organized NASA Space Day in conjunction with three clubs on campus that came together — the Space Club, the Engineering/Physics Club and Sigma Pi Sigma, a physics honorary society.
Held on the third floor of the Benedum Campus Center from 1 to 4 p.m., the day was designed to spark a love of science in people of all ages, including both kids and adults, DeLaney said. The WVU Science Public Outreach Team, or SPOT — a group of undergraduate and graduate students who are charged with delivering space-themed presentations to kids in kindergarten through 12th grades across the state — gave several presentations about space.
One of the various presentations revolved around the stars and the sun, which students learned a variety of facts about — including that the sun is located 93 million miles away, that blue stars are the hottest stars and that the sun has been shining brightly for more than 4 billion years. While the SPOT team delivered their various presentations, the coordinators of Saturday’s event staged four separate ongoing competitions for attendees of the NASA Space Day. The first was folding and flying paper airplanes, which introduced students to the field of aerodynamics, which is the study of the properties of moving air and especially the interaction between the air and solid bodies moving through it. Students like Gabriel Shipman, 7, and Corin Hyde, 8, competed among other competitors to see how far their planes could fly.
The second station probably garnered the most enthusiasm, because it allowed kids to fly small drones in a competition against each other. Students learned that propellers are just one of the many tools that create the force required for a drone to fly. While kids enjoyed flying drones, they also learned about the realistic advantages of drones, including their ability to fly up into the sky to take pictures of the Earth. Drones can also deliver packages across large distances by traveling through the air. In addition, drones are races competitively live cars in NASCAR.
Students also participated in a hydrofoil competition, in which they used aluminum foil to craft a boat and load it with pennies until it sinks, DeLaney said. Students’ objective in the contest was to change the shape of the aluminum foil to hold the most weight without sinking. The fourth and final contest was a crypto-rally, in which students used ciphers to decode messages and navigate a course in the hallway using encryption and decryption. Participants also got to take part in building their own model solar system. DeLaney said NASA Space Day was meant to encourage all participants to realize that science is fun.
“It’s mean to be a public event, something for fun,” DeLaney said. “The way we got the idea for it is that the physics club thought it would be a great day to do a space outreach event. We had one that was successful in 2014. This is meant to be for everybody; parents can race their drones against their children if they want.”
So what does DeLaney most want people to get out of NASA Space Day?
“That science is fun and cool and anybody can do it,” she said. DeLaney also wants to highlight the developments taking place here in West Virginia – for example, at the NASA facility in Fairmont, where they are developing software for a satellite mission that’s going to be launched to study the sun. The Green Bank Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va., is one of the key facilities in the world for studying pulsars, leftovers of blown-up stars.
Angela Meyer, a junior applied physics major and president of the Space Club, said she wishes she had similar events to Space Day available to her at a college or university when she was growing up.
“I hope they (the kids) are more excited about science, and that they learn this stuff is cool and that it can be hard but fun,” Meyer said. “I like that they have these opportunities to see these STEM fields. Growing up I didn’t have a college around me to go to these things.”
Leslie Wright took her son, Nicholas Wright, 7, to the event after seeing a friend post it on Facebook.
“I know he’s been really excited about flying a drone,” Wright said of her son.