In the ozone
NASA researchers are studying data collected by young scientists at a Virginia high school.
The 50 chemistry and physics students from Menchville High School in Newport News this year built seven photometers that measure the intensity of the sun. They then hooked up the photometers to voltmeters to measure the thickness of haze and other substances in the atmosphere. The information they gleaned will be used to construct the first data-set the National Aeronautics and Space Administration creates on ground-level aerosol trends.
The students were the first group to pilot the SAGE III SOLAR project, which NASA developed, that will enlist classrooms worldwide to measure ground-level atmospheric substances.
“We wanted to test the instruments and test the materials in use before we released them on the national and international level next fall,” said Susan Walters, NASA’s Sage III educational outreach manager.
During the yearlong undertaking, the Virginia students built and calibrated their own instruments, collected data daily, and used the data to determine the amounts of atmospheric substances such as ozone and aerosol, said Susan Moore, the Menchville High teacher who learned about the project after working for NASA’s atmospheric-science division.
“It was a real privilege to come in and fix the photometers,” said Eric McGlone, a 17-year-old chemistry student at the school. “It was a real privilege to be dealing with NASA.”
The students’ reward was to see what they were doing on a larger scale at the Langley Research Center in Newport News. There, they glimpsed the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III instrument, or SAGE, that will measure aerosols, ozone, water vapor, and other atmospheric gases from a satellite.
“Basically, they’re the same instrument,” Ms. Walters said of the SAGE III and the students’ photometers. “They both measure aerosol, haze, and other things in the atmosphere, just from two different locations.”
When the SAGE III is launched on a Russian satellite later this year, Ms. Walters said, students will be able to tap into the Internet to view the data the instrument is picking up and compare the findings with their own when the satellite flies by their location.
Ms. Moore plans to continue the project next school year using her students’ machines and a NASA teachers’ manual they helped revise.
A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 1999 edition of Education Week