Sometime this summer, if all goes according to plan, four Northwood High School sophomores will watch an experiment they designed fly into space on a NASA balloon.
The team was one of 60 winners of the NASA TechRise Student Challenge, run by Future Engineers. The national contest seeks to inspire sixth- through 12th-graders to reach for the stars – or at least the outer limits of the Earth’s atmosphere.
“My friends and I are super excited because we’re all super passionate about science and research,” says Riya Gupta, 16, who organized her team after reading an email promoting the contest.
The winning teams, announced in January, each receive $1,500 to build their experiment, a flight box to contain it, technical support from Future Engineers, and an assigned spot on the high-altitude balloon.
Proposals included ideas involving space travel, botany and exoplanets. Gupta and her three teammates plan to test computer chips’ capacity to weather high levels of radiation in the stratosphere, comparing chips made with gallium nitride to more commonly used silicon chips.
Only after the students did the bulk of the work did they reach out to Northwood science teacher Gabrielle Camacho for support with the application, Camacho says. “I listened to their plan and thought it was just amazing,” she adds. “I’ve been so impressed by the students’ wonder and drive and willingness to learn and ask the really complex questions.”
The Northwood students are one of two Orange County teams that won the TechRise challenge. The other is from Walton Intermediate in Garden Grove.
Gupta, the daughter of a college science teacher and a computer scientist, dates her own interest in science to a visit with her parents to the California Science Center in Los Angeles when she was 7. She remembers seeing a picture of U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams on the wall and dreaming for a time about becoming an astronaut herself. In college, she says, “I would love to do something related to space – but now I think I want to help launch rockets.”