CQU takes Gladstone school students on a mission to Mars

13 September 2021

This year's World Science Festival saw Gladstone primary school students join CQUniversity on an educational expedition to Mars.

As the only event of its kind in the Asia Pacific region' the World Science Festival helps enhance Queensland's international profile as a leader in STEM and captivates audiences by bringing together great minds in science and the arts to produce live and digital content that explores the wonders of science and the thrill of scientific discoveries.

CQUniversity's Mission to Mars provided boarding pass holders with a fun and engaging experience as they journeyed across the Red Planet's surface in the Mars Rover using augmented reality' built helicopters with the team from Cool Aeronautics and learnt about surviving on Mars.

CQUniversity Senior Lecturer' Australia Pacific LNG STEM Central Lead Dr Linda Pfeiffer coordinated the University's presence at this year's event and was thrilled to see so many possible junior scientists in attendance.

"While it may seem like fun and games – and it is very enjoyable – through these events we aim to spark kids' interest in STEM at a young age because you never know who may be there'" Dr Pfeiffer said.

"You could be inspiring the next Neil Armstrong or Albert Einstein to follow a career in STEM."

Kicking off the expedition' students immersed themselves in the fascinating world of aerospace by exploring the scientific achievements of flying an aircraft on another planet for the first time' including the Mars helicopter' Ingenuity.

Cool Aeronautics National Coordinator Olga Hansen said by showing students a scale model of Ingenuity' which stands at only 0.49 cm tall' they were able to appreciate just how incredible this achievement was.

"With an atmospheric pressure less than that on Earth' traditional lift cannot be generated for flight'" Ms Hansen said.

"Students learnt why rotary flight has proven to be the best option for scientists' and when they built their own helicopter' they observed rotary flight in action and the importance of engineering design processes' especially when their helicopter didn't fly."

Ms Hansen said it was encouraging to see not only the high level of interest from children and parents but also just how much they already knew about Mars and the interesting questions they were asking.

"Based on the large number of photos being taken at the Mars Selfie screen' we may have inspired many keen future astronauts and space tourists." Ms Hansen said.

While students learnt how to get to Mars' Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) Director Associate Professor Emma Jackson and her teams' mission focussed on how to survive on Mars' particularly the potential for growing seaweed.

"Our mission utilised potential frozen subterranean saltwater' recycling astronaut waste products (nutrients and CO2) and sunlight to grow seaweeds as a source of oxygen' food' fuel' medicine and bio-plastics'" A/Prof Jackson explained.

"We threw in a bit of seagrass restoration research too since most kids agreed looking after our own planet should come first. They learnt about what marine plants need to photosynthesise and grow' circular systems and the various bioproducts from seaweed.

A/Prof Jackson expressed her gratitude towards CMERC Postdoctoral Research Fellow Joana Costa and her efforts in organising their mission and said they plan to return for next year's festival.

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