Students' imaginations transported to the moon

Australian and Japanese students will converge for a space event where they'll learn from La Trobe University and Museums Victoria experts about what it takes to survive on the moon.

The first space event will take place on 4 September at the Greater Shepparton Secondary College and is a collaboration between the Freely Accessible Remote Laboratories (FARLabs) and Museums Victoria.

The students, who hail from Greater Shepparton Secondary College, Marymede Catholic College and Showa Gakuin Junior High School, will explore the science of space travel with experts from La Trobe University and Scienceworks (Museums Victoria).

They will have the rare opportunity to conduct an experiment using high-class scientific equipment at La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus, which they will have access to online from their classrooms via the FARLabs platform.

Additionally, students will use the concepts they have learned to design a habitable moon base.

FARLabs co-founder, La Trobe’s Professor Brian Abbey has seen how space, which is a new topic for the program, captures students’ imaginations.

“Space really does engender so much excitement from students, and we’ve seen that borne out by the events we’ve run with high schools so far,” Professor Abbey said.

The topic of space also offers several entry points for students to engage with a diverse range of scientific concepts.

“During the activities, they explore quite advanced concepts in science and health," Professor Abbey said.

"They think about exercise and diet, and the challenge of maintaining a healthy body in extreme environments."

One key concept the students will learn about is radiation, which is explored in the Australian Curriculum and a big consideration when thinking about space travel.

“On Earth, we’re shielded from a significant amount of harmful radiation by our planet's atmosphere and magnetic field," Professor Abbey said.

"However, when astronauts venture into space they're exposed to higher levels of ionizing radiation from sources such as cosmic rays and solar radiation."

Across the past decade, FARLabs has facilitated free access to world-class scientific equipment to students across Australia and overseas.

Museums Victoria has been a key collaborator for the new space event, which has run multiple times in 2023.

Throughout the year, Museums Victoria Senior Programs Officer Dr Frazer Thorpe has seen how the practical experiment gives students a deeper connection to the concepts they’re learning.

To him, it is most obvious when they are designing their moon bases.

“They were talking about radiation. They were thinking about the practical experiment they were doing and then how to apply that to their design,” Dr Thorpe said.

The students will use the FARLabs platform to remotely conduct a Radiation Turntable experiment. They will control two turntables located at La Trobe University, one housing different sources of radiation and the other housing different materials that absorb radiation.

By turning the tables and lining up the radiation sources with the shield materials, the students can measure which materials are the best protection from harmful radiation – knowledge they can then use when designing their moon bases.

The upcoming event will begin on 4 September, with all three schools coming together for the first session.

Greater Shepparton Secondary College will complete all four sessions as a one-day intensive, while Marymede Catholic College and Showa Gakuin Junior High School will run their remaining three sessions on 6, 12 and 13 September.

FARLabs is funded by a philanthropic grant from the Telematics trust and have been aided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in expanding their school network in Japan.

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