Fifteen Year 13 Physics students from ACG Parnell College have returned from a trip of a lifetime.
The students spent 17 days in the United States, visiting museums, monuments and academic institutions dedicated to the study of Physics, Engineering and space travel. Their experiences ranged from learning about rocket ships at Houston Space Centre to black holes at Harvard University and visiting the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York.
They visited the LIGO department and aeronautics department at MIT and viewed the world-famous CHANDRA X-ray Satellite research facility, NASA’s flagship mission for X-ray astronomy.
But for many, the highlight was a week at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
“They were thrown into an environment where they got a feel for what it would be like to be an astronaut in training,” explained ACG Parnell College Physics teacher Terence Beeton, who organised the trip. “Students were placed in teams and each given a mission – for example, using life-sized simulators to land a shuttle on the moon, then carry out testing on the surface.”
Students experienced zero gravity in a scuba tank and practised in a five-axis simulator and 1/6 gravity simulator – which imitates what it’s like to be on the moon.
Student Kathan Parikh, who is aiming to study mechanical or aeronautical engineering at university next year, said it was great to use the practical side of physics to execute different engineering challenges. “We learnt a lot about the obstacles that astronauts faced in putting man on the moon and other things like building heat shields and rockets,” he said.
For Thomas Chapman, one of the most surprising things he learnt was the story of Sky Lab, the first American space station which was in use in the 1970s.
On re-entry to earth, a piece of the space station landed in Australia. Australia demanded that NASA pay a fee of $400 for littering. NASA refused and it wasn’t until a radio host got the money together in 2009 that the fine was paid and the space station debris returned to America.
Thomas, who hopes to study Biomedical Engineering specialising in prosthetics when he leaves school, said his favourite part of the trip was visiting the Command Centre that controlled the Apollo missions. “It just has so much history behind it,” he explained.
This was the third Physics-inspired oversees trip run by ACG Parnell College. One of the criteria for nabbing a place was for students to have a strong desire to study Physics or Engineering when they leave school.
“This is an aspirational trip to give our students an insight into some of the options they can pursue in Physics when they leave school,” Mr Beeton explained. “There was a strong emphasis on Engineering. People don’t realise how wide a field Engineering is – not just in aeronautics, but its role in futuristic inventions and renewable energy, for example. We wanted to give our students a glimpse of the world of opportunities open to them.”