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Science on Stage EN

Project IKARUS at Science on Stage in Debrecen 2017

Throughout the school year, a primary school class has dealt with topics such as natural science, meteorology, Swiss geography and rocket science in a variety of disciplines. The crowning conclusion of this project was the three space missions in the stratosphere, which were successfully carried out in May 2016. The pupils have reached an altitude of 32,000 meters above ground level with their weather balloon probes and captured with the built-in cameras spectacular aerial photographs of Switzerland from the "border to space". In order to achieve this goal, the class has intensively worked on the relevant topics and acquired the necessary knowledge and skills by doing research and thoroughly experimenting with the physics phenomena using everyday materials.


What is innovative about your project?

With this interdisciplinary teaching project, the students learn the necessary expertise through research, careful experimentation and creative problem solving in order to solve a real, problem-based task. Through the many-sided learning methods the children combine the acquired knowledge from the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They understand these disciplines as an important part of holistic education and develop joy in learning and science.

More profound tasks could easily be added if the project was to be adapted to higher grades.


What can other teachers implement from your project in their classes?

Even with the simplest materials, illustrative results can be obtained in scientific experiments. These experiments should be embedded in interdisciplinary discourse and connected with a challenging project goal in order to achieve a high learning motivation and enthusiasm for science. The topic does not have to be space travel. It could be electrical engineering, robotics or any other technical or scientific topic a teacher can think of.


Personal quotation concerning your project:

The project Icarus exemplifies how a scientific topic can be taken up in the classroom and can be implemented as an interdisciplinary school project at any level. Many physical phenomena can be displayed and analyzed by laymen with the simplest means. With this form of a class project, we want to broaden the children's understanding of the environment, trigger enthusiasm for science, and give them the feeling of achieving something really extraordinary!


Project description: 

The dream of flying is ancient. Even the Greek mythical figure of Icarus could not resist the rapture of altitude. But we want to go even higher! Our goal is to get a space capsule with a weather balloon into the stratosphere, to record the flight to an altitude of 30,000 meters with a camera and then recover the space capsule again undamaged. After analyzing the data, we are preparing an exhibition to present the IKARUS project to the public.
With this project, we are leaving the otherwise protected school environment and doing real pioneering work. Our balloon probe will fly at an altitude of 32 kilometers above ground level through a hostile environment where the temperature falls to -70 ° C and the air pressure is less than one tenth of that at sea level. Our space capsule must therefore protect the electronics from freezing and withstand the pressure differences. On the way back to earth, the capsule drops through the atmosphere at an enormous descent rate. With a parachute we will slow down the rate of fall so far that our capsule will gently land on the ground. We will only retrieve our space capsule if the GPS system survives the impact and transmits the exact coordinates of the landing zone. The difficulty of this venture is great and the risks are high! But it is precisely these challenges that make the project attractive!

With this ambitious goal in mind, the students acquire the necessary knowledge and skills in the classroom. All content is based on the real problems that arise through the balloon missions and have the aim to create amazement and understanding. In order to cope with this enormous task, the pupils investigate the physical phenomena with simple experiments, do research on relevant topics and carefully document their results. In the beginning we follow a few simple questions:

How is the atmosphere built up? Why is the sky blue and the universe black? How are clouds created? What conditions will our space probes encounter on their journey in such a high altitude? What is a vacuum and what have gravity and airodynamic drag to do with aviation? Gases, buoyancy and the free fall have a decisive influence on our balloon mission. To deal with elementary physics, we thoroughly experiment with these phenomena using everyday materials. We simulate the colors of the sky in a water-filled container, create artificial clouds in PET bottles and measure the buoyancy of party balloons. We build water rockets, test simple parachutes and try to keep hot water warm as long as possible by inventing styrofoam constructions.

When we have recognized the technical and physical problems, we need to solve them despite limited resources. This is only possible with a lot of imagination and a good portion of inventor spirit. How can we protect the electronics from freezing with a light heat insulation? How does the space probe have to be designed to protect the sensitive electronics during impact and at the same time float on the surface in case of a water landing? The balloon probe must not exceed a maximum weight so that the weather balloon still can carry the payload. Again, these questions inspire us to creative experiments. Alone tape, styrofoam, silk paper and cardboard protect a raw egg in the free fall from the fourth floor. Are the pupils able to land this egg unharmed? The design must successfully pass all stress tests before we can start the space mission.

When the space capsules are ready, the students plan the balloon missions on the basis of the weather forecast and calculate the predicted landing location with a simplified mathematical approximation calculation, still accurate enough to estimate the real landing zone.

After successfully recovering the capsules, the pupils evaluate the data, create graphics on the trajectory, calculate the visibility range with the Pythagorean theorem. The pictures taken by the space capsules show the vulnerable beauty of the thin earth atmosphere. In the evaluation phase, we encourage the children to discuss ethical questions about the way humans deal with their home planet. Climate change is a very topical issue, which is also part of this project. Finally, the pupils write reports for the school magazine and the media. In a concluding space exhibition, the children present their results and demonstrate chosen experiments in a lecture to their parents, other pupils and the public.