by Andrea Tehan Carnes
On Friday, January 29th at 11:00am EST, Stoneleigh-Burnham students had the chance to connect with Dr. Lenore Rasmussen, Polymer Chemist, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Ras Labs in a video conference hosted by Rachel Power of NASA’s Digital Learning Network at Kennedy Space Center. While Stoneleigh-Burnham was the only school to participate on camera in the web conference, it was also streamed live on NASA’s DLN channel where anyone was able to live tweet or e-mail Dr. Rasmussen questions about her experiment. There were 25 eighth grade students, 13 upper school students, and six teaching faculty in attendance for this exciting event.During the webcast, Dr. Rasmussen gave us an overview of her experiment before allowing our girls to ask questions about her experiences and the details of her experiment. Dr. Rasmussen and her colleagues at Ras Labs work on a product she created in the labs called synthetic muscle that is made out of polymers! We learned that a polymer is simply a monomer (a small singular part) that is put together in a chain to make a polymer. Examples of polymers we use every day are plastics. Dr. Rasmussen has created a synthetic muscle polymer that will hopefully one day be used to make prosthetics or a variety of items that are useful both on Earth and in space. This polymer that she has created can withstand temperatures with two degrees Kelvin of absolute zero (which is the coldest temperature in space!) as well as high levels of radiation. This synthetic muscle can expand and contract and reacts to electric current, which is similar to how your muscles in your body work (except our muscles only contract, they don’t expand). In order to see how these polymers hold up to the solar radiation and extreme temperatures in space, Dr. Rasmussen sent four protective cages that each hold 8 samples of synthetic muscle up to the International Space Station (ISS) via a SpaceX rocket in April 2015. US Astronaut Scott Kelly was nice enough to send some photos of the experiment on the ISS which you can see if you visit the Ras Labs website. A more detailed description of the experiment on the ISS can be found here.
You can watch the entire webcast here, where you can hear our questions (but for privacy reasons cannot see our girls on screen), spoken out loud by NASA’s Rachel Powers as our sound cut out and we had to use white boards to write out our questions. You can see photographs of the webcast from our end by clicking here.
This was the first time Stoneleigh-Burnham has ever participated in anything like this before, and the girls reported to me afterwards that they really enjoyed it. We look forward to connect with NASA’s Digital Learning Network again for future events like this one, and we are also going to connect with Rachel Powers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida when our school trip heads down there for spring break in March!