Spaceward Bound New Zealand

26 March 2015
Kathleen Campbell lecturing above Frying Pan Lake at Waimangu Geothermal Valley - one of the largest hot water lakes in the world.
Professor Kathleen Campbell lecturing above Frying Pan Lake, Waimangu Geothermal Valley. Photo: Cristiana Paraschiv

Spaceward Bound New Zealand brings high school teachers together with New Zealand and NASA scientists, to show them how research is done in the fields of astronomy and astrobiology to help create resources for the new earth and space sciences curriculum.

In January, Professor Kathleen Campbell from the School of Environment at the University of Auckland, took part in the project - a six day expedition to the Taupo volcanic zone which is a region that has analogous features to planets like Mars.

“Focusing on volcanic landscapes and hot-springs as extreme environments for life gives the teachers an opportunity to engage with hands-on investigations in the field,” says Kathleen. “The study of extreme environments allows scientists to imagine what life was like, or might be like on other planets and under what conditions life may have evolved billions of years ago on Earth.”

Spaceward Bound is the first project of the New Zealand Astrobiology Institute and is a part of NASA’s international programme. Space exploration is a hot topic at the moment with NASA’s rover Curiosity exploring the history of water on Mars and the Rosetta probe landing on a comet to research how they may have brought life to planets.

“It’s becoming more routine to look for planets outside of our solar system; we’re always going to want to know where we came from and to ask, is this the only planet where life could have taken hold?” Kathleen says, “Children in our schools need to know that the search for extraterrestrial and early life is not just for people in Europe or the USA and that they can learn and contribute to this field too.”

With educational outreach being the primary goal of Spaceward Bound, Kathleen is excited to help develop the new science curriculum and to “help teachers get up to speed with the current research avenues,” as this in turn facilitates the development of workbooks and online resources that will be used in New Zealand schools and elsewhere.

The Faculty of Science helped to sponsor the field trip, which saw an eclectic mix of 50 teachers, research scientists and senior students conducting sampling out in the field using rovers and drones.

Says Kathleen, “on one field trip the microbiologists did sampling alongside the geochemists while the drone took imagery of it all so we can make maps of the study site; an acid hot spring along a stream.” The ensuing data will look at the chemical and microbiological composition of the hot spring to understand how life can take hold in waters almost as acidic as a lemon.

“New Zealand is one of the most explosive volcanic regions in the world with the highest heat flow through the Earth’s crust around Rotorua and Taupo and we can see right through the centre of the universe from this location,” says Kathleen.

Kathleen sees Spaceward Bound and its partnership with the University, as an integral part toward the growth and understanding of science in New Zealand and the world.

 “It is our teachers who teach the kids who come to University who will then solve the great environmental problems of our times and unlock the mysteries of the universe.”

 

Spaceward Bound New Zealand