On 5th and 6th July 2018, NUS High ran the STEM Carnival for the second time since its inception last year. The event was packed with workshops and booths celebrating and sharing the wonders of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, while all being connected to this year’s theme of Space Exploration.
The first day held five different workshops on biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and engineering. Each of the workshops was connected to a pseudo-storyline in which participants perform activities to help “Mr Armstrong”, a character based on the famous astronaut Neil Armstrong. For example, the physics workshop on paper aeroplanes was linked to Mr Armstrong’s space shuttle travelling through the atmosphere. The biology workshop about earthworm dissection taught participants about anatomy, and how earthworms fertilise and aerate soil to help Mr Armstrong grow vegetables in space.
The second day saw a change in format from the previous day. Instead of structured workshops, students were free to wander around various booths at the concourse. Furthermore, instead of each interest group organising one booth, they collaborated to emphasise the importance of interdisciplinary science, which is especially relevant to the theme of space exploration.
One booth jointly organised by BIG and CAtAlYZr displayed the damaging effects of space on our bodies. Due to high amounts of ionising radiation in space, the DNA that codes the instructions for our bodies may become damaged, sometimes irreversibly.
However, nature is diverse and surprising, and there exist organisms that can survive even these harsh conditions — the tardigrades. The booth displayed a detailed infographic on the lifestyle, behaviour and durability of these minuscule aquatic creatures. By curling up into tiny, dehydrated balls called tuns, they can survive the vacuum of space, as well as its extreme temperatures and radiation.
BIG also collaborated with Quanta for a booth about proprioception, the innate sense of the position and movement of one’s body. In space, the lack of gravity alters this sense, causing peculiar effects. In one notable case, an astronaut on one of the Apollo missions found that he was temporarily unable to feel his arms and legs without consciously focusing on them.
Fortunately, scientists have developed a training regimen for astronauts to keep their proprioception functional. This training includes balancing, strengthening and plyometric exercises, enabling astronauts to adapt comfortably to space.
The booths were not the only attraction, however. The centrepiece of the carnival was a 2-metre tall rocket, a collaborative effort of the carnival-goers who decorated it with science drawings and jokes, and a way to unify the booths and display how their individual topics came together for a single purpose.
The makeshift rocket also served as a reminder that the STEM carnival is not simply an enrichment course. As one of the student ICs said, the carnival is not meant for formal education and teaching. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are not dry, but can be explored with childlike wonderment, which is exemplified by this carnival’s integration of learning with fun to instil the love of learning into the students.