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NASA accepts science experiment from Unity Christian Academy student team

Experiment scheduled to launch May 7

By Jennifer Yos

SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (March 5, 2023) – On January 12, 2023, a team of science students from Unity Christian Academy in South Holland received a notification from NASA. They were one of 60 winning teams whose flight-test experiment proposals were accepted for the 2022-23 TechRise Student Challenge.

The TechRise Student Challenge is a program led by NASA’s Flight Opportunities and administered by Future Engineers. It is designed to engage sixth- to 12th-grade students in technology, science, and space exploration. This year about 500 students representing 38 states and territories were involved, according to futureengineers.org.

Preparing to launch

As one of the 60 winning teams, UCA has been granted a budget of $1,500 to build their science and technology experiment. The experiment has been given a spot on one of two NASA-sponsored high-altitude balloon flights later this year. On each ballon, 30 experiments will be conducted from the hanging gondola. Data will be collected as the balloons ascend to approximately 70,000 feet into the stratosphere, floating there for at least four hours.

Winning teams receive technical support from Future Engineers advisors, who are available to video chat each week during the build phase of the experiment.

From classroom assignment to reality

UCA science teacher Tom Findysz learned about the TechRise Student Challenge through a retired science teacher who is an advisor of his and who judged TechRise Challenge proposals in Pennsylvania. In September of 2022, Findysz asked his science students to team up in order to brainstorm, design, and submit TechRise Challenge experiment proposals as part of a classroom assignment. The proposals answered the questions: What is the experiment idea? How do you imagine it will work? Why do you want to conduct this experiment?

UCA’s winning proposal was initiated by science students Saniya Alderson and Keilah Jackson, who were both interested in learning more about radioactivity. UCA students Laylah Elmore, Amad Anthony, Amir Anthony, Samuel Williams, Raphael Landing-Stewart, and Malena Rover subsequently joined their team.

The science team working on the project, from left: Amir Anthony, UCA science teacher Tom Findysz, Saniya Alderson, Molena Rover, Keilah Jackson, Laylah Elmore, Amad Anthony, and Samuel Williams. Not pictured: Raphael Landing-Stewart. (Photo: Charis Bootsma)

Flight crew radioactivity test

The UCA team’s winning proposal is to test radioactive exposure to fabric samples at commercial flight altitudes. Saniya Alderson explains the “Why?” of their experiment: “We knew that [the experiment subject] was radioactivity and … we both wanted something to do with helping people, so that’s when we found out that flight attendants and pilots are not considered radioactive workers … They are put in that category, but they don’t have any of the protection that a normal radioactive worker would have.”

Their experiment involves sending up small fabric swatches of clothing that is typically worn by pilots and flight attendants. They will insulate the swatches in a manner similar to how a commercial jet airliner is insulated, and they will measure with a Geiger counter the radioactive exposure to the swatches while they are in flight.

The team will use a variety of technology to make sure its experiment is performed correctly. (Photo: Charis Bootsma)

The insulated swatches and Geiger counter will be contained within a clear 4” x 4” x 8” rectangular flight box that is provided in a TechRise Student Challenge kit sent to all winners. The students will be able to watch their launch live using a dash camera they have built, which was also provided in the kit, and they will receive the Geiger counter data after the flight.

The UCA team’s radiation experiment is scheduled to be launched on an Aerostar high-altitude balloon out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on May 7 — weather conditions permitting. The other balloon launched as part of the nationwide challenge is provided by World View based in Tucson, Arizona, and will be launched separately.

Unity Christian Academy is located at 16341 South Park Avenue in South Holland.


Jennifer Yos
Jennifer Yos
Jennifer Yos grew up on Walter Street in Lansing with nine siblings. She attended St. Ann’s School and T.F. South, and she earned a BA in the Teaching of English from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a MS in Education: Curriculum and Instruction from the University of St. Francis, Joliet. For 34 years she taught English, as well as Creative Writing and Drama, at Lincoln-Way High School. She dabbled in freelance journalism for the Joliet Herald News Living section. Now retired, Jennifer appreciates the opportunity to write for The Lansing Journal and is uplifted by the variety of positive people she has already met who are making a difference in Lansing.