Students from “Introduction to Geology,” taught by Associate Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens, have spent the semester using advanced imaging tools provided by NASA, as part of the Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP). In the fall, Arens used the project’s tools with students in her FSEM “Mars!” Recently, the prestigious journal Science Magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, chose the MSIP for the National Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction.
The MSIP tools are available to students from the high school through college levels. Faculty wishing to utilize this program must apply, be approved and go through several trainings with the tools, which give students an opportunity to participate in authentic research.
“This is not a canned lab where thousands of students have done it before and thousands will follow,” explains Arens. “We are reading the literature, asking original questions, collecting and scrutinizing data and trying to figure out what it means. The students have the real experience of going down the wrong path, revising and going on.”
She explains the participating MSIP teams are free to choose their own projects, “And there is something exciting about working on something no one has studied before.”
This semester, Arens and her class discovered a glacial deposit that appears to have a series of recessional moraines much like those deposited by Earth’s glaciers. Students created vertical profiles and are using a crater-counting method to age-date the surfaces to see if these features fit what they expect to see under this hypothesis. For the students, it is a chance to learn something no one else has known before.
“At the very beginning of their careers, students are learning to read the scientific literature, generate hypotheses and methods to test them, use a research grade geospacial information system, gather, analyze and interpret data,” explains Arens. “They are also learning to work together as a team to solve real problems. Since this is new research and not a lesson plan, I don’t know the answer either. We have to think things through together. These are real-world skills.”
As part of the real-world experience, Arens notes they might consider publishing their findings.
The Science Magazine article about the MSIP is available online.