BHS experiment chosen for Space Station test
Computer code created by four schoolgirls will be run on the International Space Station next month.
Mila Kendell, Yulia Isaeva, Mia Oleksak and Katarina Rance designed an experiment that measures lightning and magnetic fields above the Earth as part of the 2017/2018 Astro Pi Challenge.
Mila, 16, said they came up with the experiment while trying to generate ideas to use the instruments available on the Raspberry Pis — small, single board computers — on the ISS.
She added: “We were throwing around variables that we could measure and compare to make a larger experiment.”
The project was designed to explore whether lightning affects the magnetic fields above the earth.
The code uses a camera and a magnetometer to measure the fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field. They will store images and data on lightning and explore the correlations with the magnetic measurements.
The competition was launched by the European Space Agency’s education office and the Bermuda High School team’s idea was selected from 212 competition entries from 22 countries.
The girls said one of their main challenges was a lack of experience in Python, the coding language for the experiment.
Mia, 14, said: “To overcome this, we took Python courses so we would all have at least basic knowledge of the language, which I think taught me the importance of every team member being capable in whatever was needed for the project, or else the entire team would suffer.”
They also took advice from BHS physics teacher Alvaro Feito, internet forums and online tutorials.
Mila said: “Eventually we each built an extensive understanding of the aspects of our project, for example the display, collecting and storing magnetometer data or camera settings and imaging.”
Yulia, 16, said another challenge was coding the Raspberry Pi to detect bright flashes and lightning from the pictures captured.
She added: “We experimented many times to try and perfect this as it was the main focus of our experiment.
“We used a variety of flashlights and even a video of the earth containing visible lightning to test our code.”
The girls said they learnt valuable lessons by taking part in the challenge.
Katarina, 13, said: “I have learnt that to achieve my goals, I must be patient and I have to spread the work out. I can’t do it all in one go.”
Mia added: “I have recently been very interested in pursuing a career involving physics — specifically astrophysics, as it has been one of my main interests for a long time.
“This project inspired me a lot in the sense that it gave me a lot more insight into the actual work done by scientists working at Nasa and the ESA, so for me it was an incredible opportunity.”
Yulia said she wanted to be an engineer before taking part in the challenge.
She added: “However, from this I can definitely be more assured of my choice as I absolutely loved the challenge and working through all the difficulties that confronted us.”
The code will be sent to the ISS in April.
Teams will later get the raw data from their experiment and winners will be chosen based on reports analysing their findings.