LASERS and NASA: NES Experience Day One


First day of our summer NES experience was a day of introductions. We met our lead person at Langley Research Center. Byron Meadows, an engineer turned project leader. He was awesome and discussed different components of a project he was working on for NASA. Project ACENDS (ASCENDS : Active Sensing of CO2 Emissions over Nights, Days, and Seasons). Definitely a project worth showing the students since it pertains to CO2 emissions. I think I would use this project to introduce CO2 and greenhouse gases. Byron explained that Lasers played a major role in the project and its success.


After discussing his project Byron then demonstrated the properties of Lasers. He explained that this demonstration was one he used when visiting schools. Using a red and green laser in a laser tank, Byron lined up the lasers so that they appeared on an index card at one end of the laser tank. His recommendation for a  tank included a “commercial tank but very thin only 1 inch wide. A fish tank will do the job with room for more experiments. Plexiglass can be cut to size and bonded for less.” Once the alignment was done, he poured a scattering fluid in the tank. This fluid is not available any more so he suggested we use milk. The result was the green laser dimmed and the red laser stayed the same. Great little demonstration for properties of scattering and absorption. (Materials might be found here: I’ve posted a list of materials he gave me here.

IMG_0014      IMG_0016

After the introduction we then began our day, visiting an engineer who developed a way to plot wind speeds with lasers. He used a plane to carry the instruments and take measurements of winds. Two things; one his experiment is being used by the local energy company to plot winds off the Virginia cost to see where it would be profitable to put a wind farm. Second, the instrument could be used in the future to plot winds around the globe when launched into space. Yep definitely a project that is worth talking about. This would be a great starter to alternative energy sources and wind farms.

Common theme among the engineers was the emphasis they placed on working for NASA, they were doing what they wanted to do and it was not profit motivated. It was more about what they were working on.

DSC_0010         DSC_0013

The next visit was with another engineer and his work on a project that would hopefully would be used in a guidance system for landing on the moon or another object. This was treat as he took us on a tour of some of the work areas where they were working on these projects. We were able to view a “Doppler” type guidance system and a 3D camera. Each was a component of system that would help land rovers and other instruments. The amazing thing I learnt from this tour, was how engineers will use “creativity” to solve some of their problems.


As the day started to wind down we were given tons of information to take back to the class. Lasers are an important component to various projects and satellites. Also one thing that was stressed to us throughout the whole time was two words “collaboration and communication”. Byron could not stress that enough to us. He said if anything that is one thing we must teach the students. “It’s all about everyone bringing their expertise to the table to complete one goal.” Looks like those team building skills are going be a part of the beginning of the year.

In one day I learnt a great deal about problem solving, creativity, collaboration and communication. Something I know I can teach my students and use different components to help them learn about STEM. And again all of this was possible because of NES (NASA explorers school). Thank you for this opportunity.

I get very frustrated when people ask why we should spend money on NASA, well this is why. Private company’s are not picking up the slack, I don’t see Space X or others offering teacher outreach. Okay said my peace.

Look for more in Day Two Post…..




About rippie77

Science Teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High School, Raleigh NC.

Posted on June 29, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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