Bangor students win national NASA STEM competition

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 5:48 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Back in October, seventh grade science teacher Margaret Pietrak learned about NASA’s 2023 TechRise Student Challenge. There was just one problem.

“I found out they were only four days until the submission date,” Pietrak said.

Despite the tight turnaround time, a group of six students from the William S. Cohen School decided to go ahead and enter.

“The fact that they jumped on the opportunity with such a short window of time, that was what was really impressive. And that they came through and articulated what their idea was with sketches, with an explanation, with what the benefit is going to be from their data. I was really amazed,” said Pietrak.

This year’s challenge was to design an experiment that could be tested on a NASA-sponsored high-altitude balloon flight.

The team from Bangor came up with a way to use sensors to test air quality at different locations and in different altitudes.

“So with these sensors, as they move up, they’re going to track the amounts of pollution in the different levels of the atmosphere. We can use that data to figure out where most of the pollution is and we can figure out how to make less of that pollution so there’s less greenhouse gasses and less global warming,” said Lyell Walker, seventh grade student.

“There’s a lot of issues that come with using these fossil fuels, such as climate change. And this is a really big long-term issue since climate change will change all of humanity,” said Leo Tang, seventh grade student.

After the experiment was submitted came months of waiting. Finally, in mid-January, NASA live streamed the results.

“They all had fingers crossed everything that they could cross they crossed,” said Pietrak.

“We thought we lost for the first bit, but then they announced a second set and it was the very last page, because William S. Cohen starts with a “W” and it’s alphabetical. So we were the last one on the last page of the people who won and there was an uproar of yelling and screaming,” said Reed Marasco, seventh grade student.

“It was pretty chaotic,” said Walker.

“Very chaotic,” Marasco agreed. “We knocked a couple of chairs over.”

Each winning team now gets $1,500 to build their experiment. They’ll be meeting regularly with TechRise engineers ahead of this summer’s launch.

“We’re going to teach them a lot about engineering,” said Obi Okafor, seventh grade student. “I think they should learn a lot from us.”

“They’re gonna get better at their jobs once we’re done,” said Tang.

It’s clear they have plenty to teach. Their lessons are not only for NASA engineers, but for the rest of us too.

“If you really focus and work really hard on it, anything’s possible,” said Marasco.

“If you have an idea, stick with it, because you can do it,” said Walker.