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UW at Casper Students Build Solar/Lunar Eclipse Model for Science Zone

April 25, 2017
two women standing behind a table-like display
Melissa Heck, left, displays her team’s model with Leah Ritz, director of education at The Science Zone in Casper. Heck and her UW at Casper Technology Education Engineering Collegiate Association team created a solar/lunar eclipse-themed exhibition currently displayed at The Science Zone. (UW at Casper Photo)

By Mykel Owens, UW Institutional Communications intern

Students in the University of Wyoming at Casper Technology Education Engineering Collegiate Association (UWC TEECA) created a solar/lunar eclipse-themed exhibition currently displayed at The Science Zone in Casper.

The exhibition reflects the total solar eclipse that will occur Monday, August 21. The solar/lunar exhibition displays the lunar motion and the process of the eclipse. Wyoming is one of the few places in the U.S. that will experience the total solar eclipse.

“In order to create this display, we had to learn a lot about solar eclipses,” says Melissa Heck, from Casper, project leader of UWC TEECA. “We learned about the motion and path that the moon will take when it crosses the sun, and then we created that in our own display.”

The exhibition began with Andrew Young, a Casper College physics and astronomy instructor. He received grants for the development of astronomy-themed exhibits to celebrate the upcoming eclipse. Young then contacted Heck.

“Melissa served as the liaison and scientific interpreter to ensure that my ideas and concepts were translated correctly,” Young says. “I met her when she was a student in my physics class, so I was already aware of her high skills and abilities.”

Though Heck was the lead on the project, she was assisted by Jeremiah Benardis, Casper; Jacob Daniels, Casper; Ian Feather, Worland; and Michael Northrop, Powell. The students are all part of UWC TEECA and plan to graduate in May 2018 with bachelor’s degrees in technical education.

“As a group, we became involved in this project because of the challenge it presented and for the opportunity to learn more about the eclipse,” Heck says.

The members of the student cohort are versed in robotics, welding, electronics, automotive, drafting and woodworking, she adds.

“Young and Leah Ritz, director of education at The Science Zone, guided the layout for this project, but the measurements and artistic flare came from the group,” Heck says.

UWC TEECA spent more than 50 hours on the project, and received help from Natrona County High School and the Casper College departments of welding, machining, engineering and technology.

“This wasn’t a project our group would have normally done had we not been asked to help from the science department,” Heck says. “We also received money from the NASA Space Grant of Wyoming that allowed us to take a trip to Dallas, Texas, for the International Technical and Engineering Educators Association Conference.”

The solar/lunar eclipse project is among a series of exhibitions that are meant to help visitors at The Science Zone understand the motion of the moon and to prepare for the total eclipse occurring this summer.

“Other exhibitions discuss lunar orbit, phases of the moon, moon rise and set times, and the rotation and revolution of the moon as it orbits,” Ritz says.

The solar/lunar eclipse exhibition is part of a larger project in collaboration with Young and a grant from the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium.

“Young is creating science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) kits to distribute throughout the state to help teachers teach a variety of STEM concepts,” Ritz says.

Heck says that the project was extremely beneficial, and she hopes that it will help others the way it helped the student team.

“This experience was phenomenal,” Heck says. “It allowed us to speak with people from around the world in the field that we all are studying. We hope that it is beneficial for all who are able to interact with our display, and we are proud that The Science Zone came to us to build this project.”

To learn more about The Science Zone, visit www.thesciencezone.org/.

For information about the project, call Tammi Hanshaw, UWC area public relations coordinator, at (307) 268-3756 or email tammi@uwyo.edu.


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