Students present projects studying microgravity at iLEAD expo

Amber LaFleur concentrates as she pilots an airplain on a flight simulator at the iLead Space and Innovation Expo at College of the Canyons on Friday. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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Over 350 young adults across 157 experiment teams filled the East Gymnasium and cafeteria at College of the Canyons on Friday night, all with the science of space on their minds.

They were there to present science projects revolving around one question: How will something behave when exposed to microgravity versus gravity?

The curriculum taught by iLEAD campuses revolves around project-based learning, said Kathleen Fredette, director of STEAM school initiatives with iLEAD Schools.

And at “Mission 2019 – DreamUp to Space,” iLEAD’s second annual innovation expo, young residents of the Santa Clarita Valley got to show the fruits of their labors.

The “learners,” as they are known in iLEAD schools, had been studying topics such as antibiotic resistance or astronautical hearing loss. But all of their various ideas revolved around a similar theme: They were studying ways to test the effects of the gravity found in space, known as “microgravity,” for weeks, Fredette said. Friday night, they got to present their insights.

“We give our learners a question,” she said. “And then it’s on them to come up with a solution. In other schools, they might tell you, ‘Here, here’s a textbook. Here’s the answer.’ But we want learners to come up with those themselves.”

The expo, presented in partnership with College of the Canyons Makerspace and space-based education company DreamUp, also featured highlights from the Mission 2018 launch team, who recently returned from observing the launch of their experiment aboard the SpaceX 16 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Running from grades five through high school, iLEAD learners such as Emily Barragan, a freshman at SCVi Charter School in Castaic, got to explore science in a way they hadn’t before.

Barragan teamed up with freshman classmate Mackenzie Donovan to hypothesize that sending e. Coli into space with an Amoxicillin antibiotic, in the absence of gravity, would lead to the bacteria working even harder to stay alive.

“The hardest part was definitely the research,” Donovan said. “We had to find the right article that explained the effects of e.coli and Amoxicillin, and look at what bacteria was even safe to send in the first place. The research was not easy.”

Barragan agreed. She also said that the opportunities given through the iLEAD curriculum were challenging, but rewarding.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “It took us maybe around two months to put this together, but we really got to study a topic that we found interesting and work independently.”

Luke Rigdon, also a freshman at SCVi, which is the founding campus of iLEAD, chose a different route: How does space affect hearing loss in the face of microgravity?

Astronauts often came back to the atmosphere experiencing temporary lapses in hearing, he said, which he thought was interesting.

Rigdon’s science experiment was unique because nobody had tested the effects of microgravity on hearing before, and he wanted to run the experiment by testing two samples of the endolymphatic fluid found in the ear and how they reacted to frequencies on Earth, and then sending a sample into space and testing the contrast after it came back to Earth.

“It’s cool I’m able to do stuff like this,” Rigdon said. “I’ve been at SCVi since I was in kindergarten, and I feel I’ve learned a lot through iLEAD.”

Al Bowers, a chief scientist at NASA Armstrong, also presented at the expo and talked about his experiences with NASA and personal passion for understanding the differences between birds’ flight and aircraft flight.

“If you can feed kids the right motivation at this point, sometimes it sticks with them,” he said. “My dad worked in aerospace, and when I was 3 years old, I was the kid with my fingers through the chainlink fence, peeking through at the NASA airplanes in 1963. And I turned around apparently and said, ‘I’m going to work there someday.’ It turns out that, that airplane had come from the flight research center at Edwards Air Force Base, and today that base is now NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center where I do work. So this does come full circle.”

Ingrid Moon, a STEM facilitator at SCVi, said it was wonderful seeing learners come and showcase their findings.

“This is my second year doing the expo, and I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished,” the fifth-year iLEAD educator said.

“It went beautifully this year,” said Jeff Courtney, director of creative services at iLEAD. “We had two spaces at COC that were generously offered to us, and the participation over the student body at iLEAD schools was phenomenal. The word is getting out about the value of this program and real world science that they’re participating in. And the results and experience of doing this are amazing.”

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