Project helps high school students reach for the stars

Murray Gibbon, principal of Claremont High School, and Grade 12 pupil Viwe Mbava, from Gugulethu, with a growth chamber.

Claremont High School and the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology will take part in a global, space-connected science project when NASA’s SpaceX launches Dragon CRS-14 aboard Falcon 9 from the USA on Monday April 2.

The destination is the International Space Station (ISS), and on board will be the project called ExoLab, an experimental platform that connects scientists working at the ISS in real-time with classrooms around the world in a collaborative investigation of the microgravity on living things.

“I am thrilled with this project that will take us way beyond the classroom, literally into space,” said Murray Gibbon, principal of Claremont High School.

“It is the kind of project that takes learning to a higher level with exciting and inspiring engagement with real science in the real world.”

Claremont High School and the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, which is based in Constantia, will join others in more than 90 classrooms around the world who will be connected to the ExoLab in the ISS after the April launch.

Greg van Schalkwyk, principal at the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, said the project makes the curriculum more relevant for pupils. “They are living in a world of apps, virtual intelligence and robotics. This is an opportunity for our educators to collaborate with ExoLab and stimulate our kids through real-life exposure that can prepare them for future jobs.”

To facilitate their participation in the project, Claremont High and Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology schools will each receive fully-equipped earth-based growth chambers and the resources they need to replicate an experiment taking place on ISS.

Over six to eight weeks, they will use their specialised classroom growth chamber to grow Arabidopsis thaliana, commonly known as thale cress, and track its development in comparison to the same species of plant grown aboard the ISS ExoLab through a camera-linked, live-stream, online learning platform.

Jade Segers, a Grade 9 pupil at the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, who lives in Retreat, said: “I am very excited about the ExoLab project because it is so interesting. It’s really cool that we can connect with people in Space!” Viwe Mbava, A Grade 12 pupil at Claremont High School, who lives in Gugulethu, said: “I am very excited to be part of ExoLab because it is very different and ground-breaking. I want to understand the universe better by seeing how this plant adapts.”