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LU helps students’ projects get to space

Lumberton ISD students Giovanni Galvan, left, Lucas Mason, Austin Havard, and McRill Garrett visit the Cherry Engineering Building at Lamar University, March 2. The students won the Student Space Flight Experiment Program and will have their experiments sent out to space. UP photo by Tiana Johnson
Lumberton ISD students Giovanni Galvan, left, Lucas Mason, Austin Havard, and McRill Garrett visit the Cherry Engineering Building at Lamar University, March 2. The students won the Student Space Flight Experiment Program and will have their experiments sent out to space. UP photo by Tiana Johnson

Four Lumberton ISD students will have their work shot into space in the fall. The students won the opportunity through the Students Spaceflight Experiments program, a non-profit organization.

The competition features and experimental side and an arts side. Lumberton 11th graders Austin Havard and Lucas Mason won the experimental side with their concrete formation proposal.

“For our experiment, we focused on concrete formation in micro-gravity,” Havard said. “We really wanted to see if adding a reinforcing agent, which was the polyvinyl alcohol fibers, would help the overall strength of the mixture. On earth, we have gravity which helps the concrete set, but in space, there is nothing to hold it down and keep it together. So, in space, it tends to be very porous and not structurally sound.”

Mason said he did not expect to win but was happy and surprised.

“We originally started out with a different proposal idea, and towards the deadline for us to turn in our proposal, we realized it was not going to work,” he said. “We talked to (our teacher) Mrs. Letourneau, and she recommended something with concrete. So, we got to thinking, contacted some professors on different subjects that we could test, and came up with our experiment.”

Susan Letourneau, teacher facilitator, helped Havard and Mason come up with the idea.   

“Last year, I had come to one of the teacher STEM conferences that Lamar puts on, and one of the things we did was come in and tour the concrete lab,” she said. “I kind of threw that out to all the students, and they were the ones that picked up on it and made it successful.”

The Student Space Flight Experiment Program is operated by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

“They have been doing this for 18 years,” Letourneau said. “We are going to be mission 14 up to the International Space Station. It is a very stringent process to apply to be one of the communities.”

Letourneau said it is a community-wide effort, and she reached out for local universities to help.

“We reached out to different universities,” she said. “Lamar just has a lot of professors that are willing to help high school kids. The dean of engineering was very supportive, and he came to our community celebration. We are lucky to have a university so close that partnered on it. I think the schools that do not have that struggle a little more.”

Nicholas Brake, Lamar University associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering, worked one on one with Havard and Mason.

“These students are terrific, and I have been fortunate to get to work with them,” Brake said. “They are very bright and ambitious, and they are going to learn a lot. I hope these interactions will lead and motivate them to go into some sort of stem field, whether it be here or somewhere else.”

Letourneau said 79 teams and more than 375 students were part of the experiment program.

“A lot of the proposals were biological in nature,” she said. “Some were about looking at how e-coli reacts in space to keep the astronauts safe. There were some about food sources. Some were looking at cancer cells and how they developed. There was a variety of things, but the winning one was the only one that was dealing with concrete.”

Giovanni Galvan, 3rd grader, and McRill Garrett, 10th grader, won the artistic side of the competition, and will have their artwork orbited around the earth on the International Space Station.

“I was actually quite worried, because I know there is a lot of competent people at my school,” Garrett said. “There’s 1,770 people, so that was a very high chance that someone was going recreate the Mona Lisa in a space suit.

“I always thought I was going to make art and have people see it, but I did not think it would go to space. My ambitions were not that high. It feels very surreal.”

Galvan said his parents are proud of him and he cannot believe he won.

“I knew I was pretty good at art, but I did not know I was this good to be in the top two,” he said. “It felt amazing.”

Brake said the experiment is set to go up to the ISS around Oct. 3.

“It will come down sometime between December and January,” he said. “From there, we will collect the data, and then we will start writing a report and see where we go from there. If we get good data and have really good comparisons between our space specimens vs. the ones here, then it can lead to a publication. Beyond just the wonderful experience and exposure that this provides the students, if we can have a research product out of it that would be wonderful.

“Having the students involved in this process would be a tremendous experience for them, especially if they plan to go to grad school and pursue a higher education.”

This project will help the students in the future, Brake said.

“I feel like this experience is giving them really good exposure and understanding,” he said.  “If they ever wanted to into the concrete industry upon graduation, they would have a good story to tell future employers. We are going to put fibers, cements and some fly ash, which is a recycled material, so they understand the material a little bit better. Most of high school students really know nothing about concrete other than it exists on the sidewalk and the pavements.”

Brake said the opportunity to partner with Lumberton ISD is good for Lamar University.

“Throughout this publication, experience and interviews the community will become aware of all the great things being done at Lamar, he said. “This is a great opportunity for Lamar University to go out there and show the community what type of university we are and what we are capable of doing. Hopefully, that will lead to not only these students to come to Lamar but other students as well.”

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