Update, 7/20/16: The group of Eaglecrest alums, students and teachers featured in this article watched their hard
work pay off in July. On July 18, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
and Dragon spacecraft launched from Florida carrying more than 5,000
pounds of equipment and experiments bound for the International Space
Station. Included in that cargo was the experiment designed during the
2014-15 school year by Eaglecrest High School students Lars Dreith,
Riley Abbot, Tom Brachtenbach, Ben Scheffer, Gavin Morgenegg and
Scott Crowner, who worked with astronomy and space science teacher
David Schlichting and pre-engineering teacher Ross Ericson. The
experiment, which is designed to test the effect on microgravity on the
electrolysis of silver nitrate, is set to reach the ISS within a few days of this update.
Congratulations to the students and teachers who successfully set their
sights on the cosmos!!!
Lars Dreith's eyes light up when he thinks of the vast stretches of outer space.
It's not necessarily the sheer scope of the heavens that spur his excitement, or the untold mysteries of the universe that have puzzled and fascinated the human race since its inception. No, Dreith and his peers from Eaglecrest High School have a much more personal connection to the cosmos. Along with three fellow students and a dedicated teaching staff, Dreith had a hand in designing a scientific experiment that will eventually end up on the International Space Station.
"That was my first thought, that I'm going to touch something that will go into outer space," said Dreith, who will start his senior year at Eaglecrest in the fall. "It's just mind-blowing, honestly. I didn't expect us to get this opportunity, but I'm excited that we have."
That opportunity will come after a good deal of hard work on the part of a dedicated crew of students and teachers.
Dreith, Riley Abbot, Tom Brachtenbach and Ben Scheffer worked with Eaglecrest astronomy and space science teacher David Schlichting and pre-engineering teacher Ross Ericson on an experiment designed to test the effect on microgravity on the electrolysis of silver nitrate. The Eaglecrest team designed the project as part of their involvement in the HUNCH program, an initiative that connects high school science, technology, engineering and technology students with the resources and experts at NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. The Eaglecrest crew first joined the HUNCH program in 2012.
It was the HUNCH partnership (short for High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware) that offered the first spur toward innovation, but the students and teachers took that initial inspiration much further. This year, they refined their experiment and submitted it in a competition. The prize was the chance to see their experiment realized on the International Space Station.
"This year, we decided we were going to follow the guidelines of HUNCH, to design an experiment specifically to fit within a nanolab, which is roughly 4 inches by 4 inches by 8 inches, completely self-contained," Schlichting said. "The students designed and built every facet of the experiment. They did all of the work on Solidworks, they constructed all of the materials."
That experiment beat out 15 other contenders from across the country to secure the final prize. The final version of the silver nitrate experiment will launch into space some time in 2016.
The victory caps an exciting and elucidating stretch for the Eaglecrest team. The successful project capped work with HUNCH that included a trip to the Johnson Space Center in Texas, where the team joined other Cherry Creek School District students in flight experiments and research.
"I got to fly. It was indescribable," Abbot said. "You're floating, hands-free in the middle of the air."
Winning the chance to send their work into space is a perfect capstone for these students, several of whom graduated in May.
"It feels like this program has been building and building up to this moment. I wish I was a junior now so I could see the experiment through and work on it next year as well," said Brachtenbach, who will head to the University of Oklahoma next year to study electrical engineering. "That being said, this is an amazing end to the year. I couldn't have asked for anything better. It's pretty unbelievable. We're all friends and we all goof around, and to think we could do something of enough importance to warrant a trip to the International Space Station … It hasn't really sunk in yet."
The novelty of the good news isn't distracting the students who still have a final year left at Eaglecrest to polish the experiment before its launch in to space. Ben Scheffer, who will start his senior year in the fall, said he's not about to take the summer off.
"There's a lot we're going to need to do to get this working perfectly," he said. "We're all going to have to do a lot of work this summer."