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Southern Miss Hosting Mars Simulation Workshop for High School Students

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 01:56pm | By: Van Arnold

Students from three Gulf Coast area high schools will have a unique opportunity to brainstorm experimental ideas as part of a Mars simulation workshop conducted by Dr. Scott Milroy, assistant professor of marine science at The University of Southern Mississippi.

The workshop is set for Monday, Dec. 10 at the Fleming Educational Center Auditorium on the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus in Long Beach. Approximately 95 students from Bay High School and St. Stanislaus High School in Mississippi will join a group from Baker & Davidson High School in Mobile, Ala., for the workshop which will focus on the concept of growing cyanobacteria under extreme planetary conditions similar to the surface of Mars.

Former Southern Miss professor and current University of South Alabama Professor Julie Cwikla, along with science writer Tara Skelton, are working with Milroy on a NASA-funded research project that includes an attempt to grow a form of blue-green algae – known as cyanobacteria – in incubation chambers at the Marine Science Lab at the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, Miss. The hope is to mimic conditions that exist on Mars.

“Unlike most other science projects with an education outreach component, we are not simply pushing curriculum out to participating teacher/students, we are involving the students and their teachers as true research partners for the duration of the project,” said Milroy. “I have been visiting these high schools over the past four-to-six weeks delivering mini-lectures to give the students the foundational content knowledge so they can more ably participate in the scientific workshop.”

Milroy points out that students will be given task-oriented assignments in various break-out sessions during the workshop. The students have been designated as “content specialists” in one of four groups, focusing on:

  • Atmosphere/climate of Mars
  • Soil chemistry of Mars
  • Light availability on Mars
  • Requirements for (and husbandry of) life under Mars conditions – using cyanobacteria as the test organism for culture

This research endeavor is one of five university projects nationwide that NASA is funding with $863,000 collectively ($278,000 to Southern Miss) that provides hands-on science and engineering opportunities to high school students. Experiments proposed in two of the projects will eventually be flown on the International Space Station.

For more information about the Dec. 10 workshop, contact Skelton at 228.327.5284 or