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2021: Build student enthusiasm for STEM

2021 has been an overwhelming year in which we have faced countless unprecedented challenges. Yet it was also a year filled with inventions, collaborations and developments that accelerated the world of sscience, ttechnology, eengineering, and maths (STEM) and improved many areas of human life.

From the invention of the coronavirus vaccine to the refutation of the dominant theory on the extinction of woolly mammoths and finally, a mission in the outer atmosphere of the Sun, 2021 was filled with inspiration Science innovation.

These hands-on project ideas will help aspiring science students challenge their knowledge and skills while inspiring young students to invent, innovate and collaborate.

Vaccination against the coronavirus

In many ways, science saved the world in 2021. Thanks to life-saving coronavirus vaccines, booster shots, test kits, and medical equipment such as ventilators, millions of people have recovered from the coronavirus or completely avoided developing symptoms.

This momentous effort has been made by various teams of people around the world, including many pioneering women scientists such as Dame Sarah Gilbert DBE, Catherine Green OBE, and doctor Kizzmekia Corbett.

To mark these historic innovations, collaborations and problem-solving efforts that have defined 2021, science teachers can encourage their students to study ways to improve access to research on Covid-19 that could save lives.

There is so much information about the virus and vaccines that it’s hard to know where to look and what to trust. You can have students research the answers to common questions people may have and present them in a short story. There are all kinds of ways to communicate scientific information, including posters, blog posts, interviews, podcasts, and short animations. What will work best for the public?

Ask students to think carefully about the sources of information they are using and to think about the evidence available to support the claims made in the news headlines. Students should keep a list of their sources and include them in their story. Or they could investigate the truth behind the news headlines.

These activities can help students think about where information comes from and how it is communicated.

DNA analysis in ancient soils

In December 2021, researchers from McMaster University, the University of Alberta, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Government of Yukon has found an innovative and revolutionary way to analyze spoonfuls of ancient soil extracted from permafrost in Canada. This soil was fascinating because it contained billions of microscopic genomic sequences of ancient animal and plant species.

By analyzing this soil sample, scientists discovered a 30,000-year-old DNA record of past environments and the animals that roamed the Earth. This record revealed that mammoths were already in dramatic decline before climate instability, which was previously believed to be a contributing factor in their extinction, and that human overhunting has not wiped out the animals, contrary to mainstream theories. On the contrary, the soil sample revealed that woolly mammoths existed just 5,000 years ago!

This breakthrough shows the importance of preserving and archiving permafrost soil samples, which are at risk of permanent loss due to global warming.

To mark this scientific breakthrough, students could analyze the soil in their back garden, to find out what nutrients plants need to grow, and how this may relate to our rainforests. Alternatively, young scientists could research the theories of dinosaur extinction, evaluate them and discuss their validity in class. Both of these activities encourage students to take science into their own hands and make discoveries on their own, just like professional scientists!

Venture into the sun

Three years ago, NASA launched the “Parker Solar Probe,” a spacecraft intended to fly through the Sun’s outer atmosphere, described as “the most autonomous spaceship that has ever flown”. For the first time in history, this mission was completed on the 15th December 2021.

The spacecraft had to fly at a colossal speed of 500,000 km / h (320,000 mph) to measure the solar environment with an impressive suite of instruments deployed behind a thick heat shield. He had to overcome many obstacles to reach the outer atmosphere of the Sun, known as the corona, including the supersonic wind which is accelerated by a flow of charged particles, including electrons, protons and heavy ions, this near of the solar nucleus.

In addition, the spacecraft had to withstand incredible temperatures. The Sun is around 6000 ° C at its photosphere, which is the deepest layer of the Sun that we can directly observe, but inside the corona it can reach an unimaginable million degrees or more.

Parker’s cameras captured these images, showing the light scattered by electrons in the solar corona

The Parker Solar Probe team won the Nelson P Jackson Award from the National Space Club and Foundation for their outstanding contribution to aerospace. The diverse team worked together for decades on this project and this year they collectively made history.

To mark this incredible achievement, budding scientists can take advantage explore how rockets work. To do this, they will have to design, build and test their own model rocket. Students can also measure the heights they reach and the factors that can impact the success of their rocket. This will help students feel comfortable experimenting – trying, failing, and trying again, all in the process of learning and discovering.

While 2021 has been a year dominated by doubt and disease, it has also seen breakthroughs that shine with inspiring light in the dark. Focusing on these incredible feats can help students stay positive and excited about science, their studies, and their ability to write history.

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