Updated 08/17/2012 01:15 PM
State of Education: Learning from the Curiosity rover
The Dean of the School of Science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute happened to work on the recent landing of the NASA Curiosity rover on Mars. Vince Gallagher reports on what students can learn from the rover.
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"I was in the first team that defined the science the Curiosity should do, and I've been involved with it for eleven years, so to see it land last Sunday night was such a thrill," said Laurie Leshin, RPI Dean of the School of Science.
Leshin was part of a team that planned the Mars rover mission. Now that it is "looking around it's landscape," she compared Curiosity to a curious baby.
"It's learning about its surroundings, it's ready to take its first steps, it will probably do that in the next few weeks or so and then we'll really get out there and explore those fascinating rocks we're seeing," said Leshin.
The landing of Curiosity can also have an effect on the educational side of things. For one, students at RPI can help participate in the research. And two, it can help motivate younger students to become more interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, also known as STEM.
"It was landing on Mars in the seventies by Viking that sparked my imagination that got me to want to be a scientist. I hope other kids are out there following our mission and are going to be asking their parents and teachers about what's happening on Mars and teach them more," said Leshin.
A mission to Mars can certainly spike an interest in STEM, but as important as this is in the 21st century, there's also an economic reality to this.
"Funding for this program, interplanetary science, has been drastically cut now, we may be at the pinnacle right now, I think that's a dangerous place to be, we really need to restore that funding,” said Leshin.
In the meantime, with all that work behind them, their research continues to find a bigger picture.
“And it was an amazing experience to share together as a team because we've been working so hard to get us to this point, and now it's ours to have fun with on the surface, it's a great opportunity for us,” said Leshin.
Where the sky's the limit. Students can continue to learn topics in interplanetary science, especially now that Curiosity will continue to report new information from Mars.