Using Art and Wonder to Spark Interest in STEM

Have I mentioned lately that I’m the luckiest person on the planet? It’s true. I am part of a team that is building a Mars Rover Art Car.

The MRAC crew is building a fully functioning, larger than life replica of the Mars Rover, not only in homage to the real Rover, but also as an educational tool. The idea is to imitate Curiosity, by analyzing soil samples and broadcasting from the desert, and giving people a chance to see a Rover replica up close and have their questions answered by knowledgeable people who are enthusiastic fans of NASA and JPL.  It will also be used to educate about permaculture and sustainability and to encourage thought about future colonization.

From the crew:

“Our mission is to spread knowledge about space, wonder about Mars, conscious thought of environmental impact on Earth, and spark interest in science, engineering, and art.

“While Burning Man is the first stop on our mission, we plan make appearances year-round at schools, science fairs, tech conferences, and environmental talks. Our dream is to provide tangible access to what humans dream of… space exploration, permaculture, sustainability, unity through community, and the strength of self-expression.”

The Mars Rover Art Car will have a fully functioning set of scientific instruments similar to those on the real Rover: robotic sampling arm, GPS tracking system, weather station, simulated crowd-sourced navigation, on-board cameras and sensors. The back of the Rover will feature a permaculture rocket stove which we will use to cook food, as well as using as an example of how to use energy virtually waste-free.

And it’s going to be fun! The debut event will be at Burning Man 2013. The MRAC crew is currently in the process of scheduling school visits, as well. Imagine the excitement for kids to climb on board and explore and learn, while taking a ride on a Mars Rover!

We’re currently up on Kickstarter, working on our last few days of fundraising. Please show your support for our project by donating and sharing our project:

And follow our progress on facebook:

And twitter:

*Disclaimer: This is a citizen funded art car. Any employees of NASA or JPL who are working on this project do so on their own non-work time.


SRO at SL Science Events

Luckily, avatars don’t get tired of standing. The fantastic events put on by the Science Center in Second Life have been standing-room-only lately.

At a recent lecture at Second Nature, Nature magazine’s island in Second Life, a very large crowd gathered to hear Dr. Phil Holliger of the Medical Research Council Molecular Biology Lab in Cambridge, England speak about new ways to rescue damaged DNA from ancient samples (specifically, a 60,000 year old cave bear.)

NASA events continue to draw crowds. I missed an event put on by CSIRO (Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization) because I overslept and tried to log in to the 5 am event about four minutes late. The sim was full — it had reached the maximum capacity of avatars it could host — and I could not get in.

Second Life appears to be a wonderful medium for this sort of thing. And this is not only due to the platform-independent, interactive approach with a global reach, but also because of the world itself: the ability to build 3D models to explain complex ideas in a visual format makes SL especially enticing.

Edutainment is big. Just look at the popularity of The History Channel or Discovery, even C-Span. People want to learn in an environment that feels like entertainment. Second Life or other immersive environments are ideal for this.

Here’s a quick look at some of the ways SL is being used for science education: