Coffee County Middle School STEM Fair shows that the sky is the limit
Leiona Dodson, left, and Hannah Proctor get to work building straw rockets.
Staff photo by Hunter Hobbs
Mar 7, 2020 By Hunter Hobbs Staff reporter at The Manchester Times in Coffee County
Last Tuesday Coffee County Middle School held a STEM fair showcasing the science behind aerospace flight. From programming, to rockets, to liquid nitrogen, these hands-on exhibits sparked the curiosity of the attendees and increased awareness to possible career paths in aerospace engineering.
There were six exhibits on display starting with a flight simulator in the school’s bottom floor. Retired Navy helicopter pilot John Marchi was in charge of guiding the attendees through a flight program on the school’s computers. “I’ve been helping with the program for three of the last four years,” Marchi said, “This program is actually designed to help with aviation engineering. We teach them how to fly and then why they fly.”
The exhibit was just a quick introduction to the sim, as the students actually use the full capabilities of it in the schools flight club. “We only allow eighth graders into the club,” Marchi said. “Even then we only have room for 25 students after that.”
The students spend 10 weeks on the sim and if they pass some tests they are allowed to actually fly. Two of the program’s graduates were assisting Marchi in his demonstration, Conor Waring and Ava Mcdonough.
Both were looking forward to the actual flight and showing their classmates some of what they’ve learned.
“I love learning how it works and how all the small parts fit together,” Mcdonough said.
The next exhibit was a liquid nitrogen demonstration.
Shelby Brant was the presenter and has been doing demonstrations for two years.
“The goal is to show the uses of liquid nitrogen with rockets. Liquid takes up less space in a rocket where every bit of weight counts, so it’s vital to understand the properties,” Brant said. This was demonstrated by adding liquid nitrogen to filled balloons and showing how they shrink. She explained that it was the same principle as tires shrinking in the winter.
Next was the EV3 programming exhibit. The school’s Lego league team demonstrated how programming is used to move different robots that they constructed, and demonstrated how similar programming is used on the various rovers produced by NASA.
Dr. Jim Masters has been the coach of the team for three years.
“The club is great because it helps teach programming skills and to see if this would be something the kids would interested in,” Masters said.
The club also lends it talents to local charities such as with Hands and Feet. The organization helps make homes more accessible to disabled people and the club helped them design some ramps this year.
After that there was the rocket area. Dr. Tom Giel, who was at NASA for 21 years, demonstrates how a rocket engine works. Dr. Giel had a suitcase with the components for the engine on the inside covered by some glass. He explained what each component was and how it works with the next component. The demonstration ended with a vibrant flash of light as the rocket engine roared to life with a starter flame. Giel has been presenting at events such as this for over 35 years, and his demonstrations have been inspiring observers for at least that long. Tuesday night was no different with Serena Madgey being awestruck by the presentation.
“I was really excited for the fair tonight,” Madgey said. “All week I was telling my mom about how cool it was going to be.”
Across the way from Giel was Professor Steve Brooks and his graduate assistant Brittany Porcelli. They were demonstrating aerodynamics with straw rockets. A straw and some construction materials were provided to the attendees so they could create an airtight seal on the straws. The straws could be launched with a device that pumps air through the straw. After that the participants needed to aim their creations at a target further down the gym.
“The pressure needs to be exact, as well as the angle,” Brooks said. “If it’s angled too far up you’ll gain height but not distance. Inversely, if you are angled too low you’ll gain distance but not height.”
The final exhibit was the planetarium. Olga Oakly of the Hands-on Science Center was the presenter of this exhibit and she explained a little about the exhibit. “The planetarium is part of the air force STEM program. We show a little movie about stars and space, and it’s always very popular wherever it travels.”
The exhibit is eye-catching, a large black dome is inflated with air as attendees duck into the entrance.
The person in charge of setting up the fair is Sharina Nolin. When asked what was the hardest part of the fair she explained that getting people to come is the most difficult.
“We did it last year as well, but it’s hard for the kids to convince their parents to take them. We added a meal this year to try and incentivize attendance, but turnout was a little bit less than we were expecting,” Nolin said.
When asked what the goal of the fair was Nolin stated that it is to help kids see the possibilities in the science field. Maybe the next NASA scientist could come from our own backyard, and with events like the CCMS STEM fair the possibilities are as far reaching as the stars.