SIGNIFICANT EVENTS - EDUCATION and OUTREACH
10/31/03

Tepee Co-Investigator Inspires New Generation of Astronauts

Enrico Lorenzini, a Fundamental Physics Co-I at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, presented a gravity-related educational talk entitled "The exploration of the solar system" to first graders at the Loker Elementary School (Wayland, MA).

Lorenzini was invited by the local public school to give a presentation on space-related topics as part of the educational module on Balance and Motion that the school had developed to introduce those concepts to first graders. To relate to the module topics, he started by introducing the orbital motion of the planets in the solar system, then he introduced the planets as giant spinning tops. He showed the different orientations of the spin axes among the planets (see image below), and made the students understand the practical effects of the planet spin on our daily life, highlighting the different spins of sample planets like Venus, Earth and Jupiter. By showing pictures of Earth and Moon from space, Lorenzini also told them about planets/satellites with and without an atmosphere, and he explained in simple terms what holds the atmosphere close to the planet. Addressing the role of the atmosphere in protecting the planets, he made them appreciate how thin the Earth's atmosphere actually is.

Obliquity of the Nine Planets by Calvin J. Hamilton

Lorenzini then introduced basic concepts about rockets and space vehicles and went on an excursion of attractive pictures of planets taken from various spacecraft: the surface of Mercury, the cloudy Venus, Olympus Mons on Mars, the eye-storm on Jupiter, the blue Neptune and our own planet's beautiful vistas. He also showed schematics of the interior of a rocky planet (Earth) and a gas giant (Jupiter). Throughout the presentation he stressed examples from their daily experience to relate to: the speed of Earth in its orbit is such that Earth could go from their school in the suburbs to downtown Boston in less than a second, while they took a long time to do the same field trip. Lorenzini was bombarded with questions, many of them very perceptive queries about the high temperature on Venus or the darkness of Pluto. One youngster was already well aware about the difference between rocky planets and gas giants. At the end, Lorenzini showed them videos taken aboard the Shuttle Atlantis during the deployment of the first tethered satellite, an experiment in which he was involved. The students were very inspired to see the astronauts working in space and talking to mission control in a raw mission situation. This action had more immediacy to them than the well-prepared snapshots they see on TV.

In spending almost two hours with the first-graders, Lorenzini's greatest pleasure was to see how excited first-grade students can become about the subject. The comment from one teacher was that the lecture had inspired a whole new class of future astronauts.



Back