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Mars Education Student Program Wraps Up Successful Year

Students Identify Potential Rover Landing Sites and CRISM Observation Targets

June 2010

Approximately 100 students, teachers and scientists from across the country participating in the Mars Education Student Data Teams (MESDT) program wrapped up the program’s fourth successful year following presentations, late last month, to the CRISM science team whom they’d been working with throughout the school year.

The student-driven projects used CRISM data to examine the topography and mineralogy of Mars to find indications of water that had once been present on the planet. The MESDT team worked with CRISM science team members, teacher mentors, and with one another via an online forum and monthly telecons to conduct authentic research projects, which included one that focused on proposed landing sites for future rovers on Mars. Students identified suitable landing sites by studying areas that met certain parameters (elevation, latitude, mineral content) set by CRISM engineers and scientists. Even though the school year is drawing to a close, the team will continue its work, refining ideas about the best possible sites for future exploration.

Another team studied surface features associated with phyllosilicates (a group of minerals associated with past wet environments), and suggested future observation targets, which CRISM scientists will include when imaging portions of Mars’ surface.

Throughout the school year students focused on lessons about Martian mineralogy and geomorphology, the CRISM instrument and its data and software. They developed research projects with aspirations of making a contribution to the science community. In addition to presenting to the CRISM science team and their peers in May, several students had the opportunity to present posters about their research during the 2010 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held in The Woodlands, Texas, in March 2010.

“I really enjoyed the student presentations,” said Scott Murchie, CRISM’s principal investigator from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Md. “They did a really a great job of explaining the pros and cons of potential landing sites.”

“I’m amazed at the quality of their presentations and at the level of research the students have done,” adds Selby Cull, a CRISM science team member at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Working directly with science team members and conducting authentic science research are two of the attributes that make MESDT such a unique and successful program,” says Brian Grigsby, MESDT coordinator and science department chair at Shasta High School, Redding, Calif.

He says teachers that participated in the program this year praised it as a pivotal experience for their students; influencing future career interests, providing scholarship opportunities, and providing opportunity and focus for students who were considered at-risk

“MESDT is the best outreach program available to high school students,” says Howard Lineberger, of Durham Academy, Durham, NC. “The chance to do independent research based on data from cutting edge space exploration, combined with the interactions with the CRISM science team, is as motivational and effective as any science teaching method.”

For more information:

The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) is one of six science instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the CRISM team includes expertise from universities, government agencies and small businesses in the United States and abroad.

CRISM's mission: Find the spectral fingerprints of aqueous and hydrothermal deposits and map the geology, composition and stratigraphy of surface features. The instrument will also watch the seasonal variations in Martian dust and ice aerosols, and water content in surface materials — leading to new understanding of the climate.