Science is often considered a bit nerdy at high school, but even the coolest kids would have to admit this is pretty awesome.
Hundreds of year 9 and 10 students across NSW and Victoria are learning to code and design experiments which will be sent into space to be tested by astronauts at the International Space Station. This education initiative has taken off thanks to Quberider, a Sydney start-up which aims to get people more involved in space.
The project is the brainchild of co-founders Solange Cunin, a fifth year aerospace engineering student from the University of New South Wales, and Sebastian Chaoui, University of Technology Sydney student. They started it to fill the void of engaging and integrated STEM education programs.
“We’re both avid space lovers, but it’s a little bit difficult working in the space industry in Australia because there’s very little awareness about it,” Cunin tells SBS Science.
“So the first step in fixing that, and boosting the actual industry itself, is by educating people, and what better way than by inspiring a bunch of teenagers who could hopefully go on to work with us in the next couple of years.”
The 23-year-old CEO explains that Quberider has developed a curriculum that can be used by schools to meet the national syllabus outcomes.
Since the program rolled out at the start of the year, 40 high schools across NSW and Victoria have received specialized content and satellite hardware kits with sensors that students can use to design experiments.
“We’ve basically simplified rocket science so that anyone can do it,” Cunin says.
“We teach students all the really important industry skills - so coding, data analysis, problem solving - but all in the context of the students developing their own space experiment.
“So at the end of the program we actually take their experiments and send it to the International Space Station where we run them in space and give them a really profound and awesome – in the literal sense – experience as they watch a rocket go up and say that they own a part of that, or built something that’s on that.”
Australia’s first payload to the International Space Station will get launched on a SpaceX rocket out of Cape Canaveral in Florida in November.
About 60 experiments will run on a piece of hardware called Asimov, which fits into a module about the size of a coffee mug.
The module has 10 sensors that collect data, which is then sent back to the students to prepare their reports.
Students have designed experiments that range from testing variations in the Earth’s magnetic field to developing an algorithm to map data they collect from space, to musical notes to create a space song.
“We’ve basically given them free reign over the hardware in space and said ‘here’s 10 sensors, go nuts’, and they’ve really, really pushed it to new grounds," Cunin says.
"They’ve been really creative, to the point where I now recommend companies have kids on their innovation boards, just because we’ve been so blown away with the creativity that’s come out of it.”
It’s only in its first semester, but the Quberider program has already been enthusiastically embraced by high schools, says Cunin.
“What we’ve found is that we’ve got science classes that are oversubscribed and we’ve got waiting lists for more classes to come in (to the program),” she says.
“There’s just something really magical about space.”
Cunin now hopes to get the program into more schools across the country.
“If we can make sure that every year 9 and 10 student around Australia gets to send up an experiment to the International Space Station, I think we’d be very, very happy and hopefully have a booming technology industry in the next 10 years.”