Each week we will attempt to share some inspiring stories from around the world about how some great people, organizations and institutions are transforming the world we live in through simple environmental projects. We will attempt as much as possible retrieve the stories in the exact form(s) as they were published and feature it here on this page. The most recent stories will be on the front.

 NASA research opportunities let students in Idaho universities reach for the stars

From left, Boise State undergraduates Colton Colbert, Jacob Davlin, Camille Eddy, Scott Warren, Eli Andersen and John Cashin with a mockup of the Orion capsule designed for a mission to an asteroid, on June 3 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY — Kathleen Tuck

NASA has long been a valued partner in education in the Gem State. NASA grants supporting work ranging from aerospace technology to medical advances to ecological sensors and more have benefited researchers here in the Treasure Valley and across Idaho. In addition, K-12 students and undergraduate mentors have grown from opportunities such as the Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars high school program and the annual Zero Robotics middle school competition, where kids create computer code to program robotic spheres to perform specific functions on the International Space Station.

Idaho now has two astronaut-educators who are working to inspire students in higher education. In their roles as distinguished educators in residence at Boise State University, retired astronauts Barbara Morgan, who came to work at Boise State in 2008, and Steve Swanson, who joined us in August, are inspiring students to participate in cutting-edge research that is making a real-life difference.

NASA attracts students to critical science, technology, engineering and math fields and recruits a talented future workforce for itself, and Idaho students get access to decades of top-notch engineering know-how and the chance to experiment with space-age technology.

And thanks in part to the ongoing efforts of Morgan and other faculty, students from across disciplines at Boise State University have been in the thick of things with NASA Johnson Space Center’s Microgravity University. Boise State has sent teams of students to JSC in Houston for seven years running. For two years, teams from Northwest Nazarene University also participated.

While providing hands-on experience in tackling real-world problems, Microgravity University also allows engineering, science and education students to experience cool technology, such as NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft (lovingly referred to as the “Vomit Comet” by those who have flown in it) and the 6.2 million-gallon Neutral Buoyancy Lab pool, both of which simulate the weightlessness of space travel. They work side-by-side with some of NASA’s brightest minds, and with other high-achieving students from schools across the nation, including Yale, Cal Poly, Duke and Purdue.

In 2009, NASA engineers challenged Boise State to focus on increasing traction over the moon’s ultrafine dust for future lunar rovers, starting with questions about torque. In 2010, they added an additional task — figuring out how to use high-tech properties to determine the moisture content of lunar soil. Both avenues of inquiry were based on real-life problems faced by the agency.

Student solutions were tested in the artificial reduced gravity environment created when a jet plane is flown on an elliptic flight pattern. As it drops from its apex, it creates a short period of weightlessness, or Zero-G.

For the next three years, our students shifted their focus to biological issues associated with the bone-density loss experienced by astronauts during extended weightlessness. Then for a year, they focused on the effects of increased intracranial pressure on the eyes, which changes the vision of crew members.

In 2011 and 2012, NNU students considered how to retrieve the maximum water or vapor from waste “brine” produced in the space station’s filtration system. Their experiment tested a component that could recover more liquid while using little additional energy.

This year, NASA’s Microgravity University shifted away from the flight program and focused on a future mission to gather rock samples from an asteroid. Our students were told to create a tool that astronauts could use to collect three samples of loosely adhered surface rock, called float samples, without causing any cross-contamination.

The team’s device — essentially a hand-held “grabber” that incorporates three sample collection boxes onto a pulley-and-belt system — was cleverly titled “Zero-g Operable Interplanetary Delivery Based ERgonomics Grabber,” or ZOIDBERG. Fans of the animated show “Futurama” will appreciate their effort to achieve that acronym.

Idaho college students also have opportunities to apply for scholarships and fellowships through the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium and Idaho NASA EPSCoR program, both administered by the University of Idaho. These are longstanding, high-value programs that have benefited countless students and faculty across the state.

Additionally, students from Idaho universities have been involved with creating scientific payloads for launch on NASA’s RockSat-X program and high-altitude balloons and with designing robotic devices to help with work on the lunar surface.

These and other NASA programs are introducing students to a world of opportunities and keeping them engaged in the STEM field. Several students from Boise State teams now work full-time for NASA or its contractors. Others are working at and launching companies here in Idaho. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Mark Rudin is vice president for research and economic development at Boise State University, where he oversees the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Research Compliance, and other administrative and technical offices. His column looks at the state of scientific discovery and economic development in Idaho and beyond.

Life of a girl: Solar power lights the way for Lourdes

Timor-Leste, August 10, 2015

Kyla Yeoman

Filed by: Kyla Yeoman

Communications Strategist and Global Envision Editor

Of all of her siblings, 15-year-old Lourdes dos Reis is the most serious. She attends a nearby public school with the dream of becoming the Minister of Education someday — but, as the oldest child living at home, she has many responsibilities in addition to her schoolwork.

Each day, with quiet determination, Lourdes collects water for the family, completes her chores and helps her mother cook. And when all that is said and done — long after the sun sets — she clicks on her solar lamp and begins her homework.

We met Lourdes in rural Timor-Leste, where more than half the population, including Lourdes’ family, doesn’t have access to electricity. Instead, many people rely on expensive, unsustainable energy sources that drain their financial resources and give off harmful emissions.

But Mercy Corps’ Energy for All program is building awareness and distribution of solar energy products in impoverished areas like Lourdes’ village, giving families like hers an affordable, safe energy alternative that helps them save money and improve their living environments.

The solar lamp her father bought through the program has a special significance for Lourdes — she now has a reliable light source to complete her studies each evening after she finishes her chores.

Follow Lourdes through her day and find out how solar power is lighting the way for her to have a bright, successful future.

6 a.m.

Lourdes wakes before her three siblings. Usually, 18 immediate and extended family members share their three-bedroom home, which is made of bamboo, cement, dirt floors and a tin roof.

Lourdes sweeps the floors and tidies the home before grabbing a small towel and bar of soap and walking to a nearby water spot for a bath.

6:45 a.m.

She helps her mother, aunt and cousins with breakfast. The family uses a traditional three-stone open fire in the kitchen, which in Timor-Leste is always a separate house behind the main house. Lourdes gathers bananas and eggs from the storage area, then arranges the firewood and fans a spark to start a fire.

They get two fires going because there are so many people to cook for. Soon the smoke is billowing out the window and curling up over the roof.

7:15 a.m.

It’s time for Lourdes to get ready for school. She can’t find her hairbrush so her mother helps her look around her tiny bedroom, which has one bed shared among four young female cousins.

Lourdes is in a hurry now — if she doesn’t leave soon she’ll be late for class.

7:30 a.m.

With a thin notebook in hand, Lourdes leaves the house. “Every morning I go to school with my brothers and sisters,” she says.

The walk takes about 30 minutes down a long winding road through the village. She holds her cousin’s hand and they gather neighbors and friends along the way.

Lourdes drops the younger kids at the primary school and walks five more minutes to the junior high school.

8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Lourdes joins her class of about 25 kids. They have a lesson in Portuguese grammar today.

Both of Lourdes’ parents beam with pride that Lourdes is receiving an education. “I would like all my children to go to school because I was not pushed by my parents to go to school,” her father Anenias tells us.

Anenias does carpentry and sells coffee beans to support the family. He makes $500-600 (USD) a year if the coffee harvest is good — but only $100-200 if it’s not. Lourdes’ mother, Isabel, helps pick coffee and spends the rest of her day tending the family’s home and garden.

“I push them [the children] to go to school so one day they can have something to put on their plates,” says Isabel. “Their smartness determines the size of their plates in the future. I want them to go to school so they can be smart for their own future.”

4 p.m.

As soon as Lourdes returns home, she and a few friends walk 10 minutes to the nearest water spout to collect water. “We help each other collect water,” she explains. “They help me, I help them.”

If the spout is dry, there is another waterpoint farther away, but Lourdes prefers the closer one so she doesn’t have to carry the heavy water as far.

The water spout is a metal hose that is situated at the end of a small spring. The kids play on a large tree nearby as they each gather the water their families need for the evening.

Lourdes fills six gallon-size plastic containers for the family and brings them each back to a bench outside her home’s kitchen, where they sit until they’re used for dinner. There are normally two containers left over for breakfast, but sometimes she has to run and refill early in the morning, too.

4:30 p.m.

After dropping off the water, Lourdes picks up her homemade woven basket, straps it on her back, and collects cassava and sweet potato leaves near the house for dinner. With 18 people to feed, she has to collect a lot of leaves.

4:45 p.m.

Once back home, Lourdes heads into the kitchen to wash mugs, plates, forks and spoons for dinner. She dunks them into a bucket to wet them, scrubs them clean and rinses them in another bucket. She then stacks the clean dishes neatly on a tray and passes them to her mother.

5:00 p.m.

Lourdes helps her aunts, cousins and mother with peeling and cutting vegetables. Tonight they are cutting green beans they bought at the market, and boiling the cassava and sweet potato leaves Lourdes collected from the garden.

Most of the women and young boys have already been in the kitchen for at least an hour, and the smoke is thick. It can only escape from the room through the doorway, a small window and the cracks between the room’s bamboo walls and tin roof.

5:30 p.m.

While dinner is still cooking, Lourdes sneaks some time to play hopscotch with her friends and siblings. “I like having lots of siblings because there are a lot of people to play with and help each other,” she says.

The kids giggle and talk for as long as they can, until Lourdes’s mother calls her back to the kitchen to help finish and serve the dinner.

8:30-9:30 p.m.

After the family eats, Lourdes is finally able to focus on her schoolwork. She gathers her notebook and textbooks and sits down at a table to study. It’s after dark, so she uses the solar lantern her father recently purchased through Mercy Corps’ Energy for All program.

“I got the light so my children can study. And if one day the light is broken, I will buy it again,” says Anenias. “In the old days we used candles and kerosene lights only.”

But candles, kerosene and other nonrenewable energy sources, like wood and batteries, are a constant financial burden for families like theirs. Solar units only need be purchased once, so they offer an affordable, sustainable solution that helps low-income people better utilize their funds.

With the savings, they’re able to invest more in their homes, livelihoods and futures, like Anenias is doing.

“Since we got the light, we have reduced our expenses. We are now saving a little bit of money to send our kids to school,” he says. “With good fortune, Lourdes can become the Minister of Education and I’ll be happy. If she becomes a nurse, I’ll be happy too.”

This inspiring story was published at MercyCorps and retrieved on 09/01/2015


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