TJ Team: NASA TechRise Winners

Proposed experiment to launch into stratosphere.

Four seniors at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) have until May 5, 2023, to build an experiment with NASA after being named one of 60 winning teams nationwide for NASA’s second TechRise Student Challenge. On January 12, winners Hayne Aung, Michael Liang, Nikhil Vallikat, and Aryamann Singh could begin building their scientific experiment on radiation for a NASA-sponsored suborbital balloon flight scheduled for June 2023 by AeroStar in South Dakota

The students call their experiment "Radiation Shielding of Compositions of Polyethylene, Tantalum, and Molybdenum Disulfide.” The team's experiment will be connected to the balloon's power and data before being mounted on the gondola and launched into the sky. The students are in TJ’s Chemical Analysis and Astronomy labs, led by Dr. Brian Kennedy and Kelsey Stuart, respectively.

The TechRise Student Challenge is led by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program and administered by Future Engineers, program administrators said in a statement. 

"NASA’s missions of tomorrow are sparked by the accomplishments of the Artemis Generation today in classrooms across America,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Radiation challenges astronauts, according to Liang. People on Earth are safe from radiation as most solar particles are deflected by Earth's protective magnetic bubble, known as the magnetosphere. Any particles that do make it through are also suppressed by the atmosphere. Astronauts are not protected. “Radiation shields are probably the simplest way to do that," Liang explained.

Aung said they will measure the radiation that the Geiger counter takes in to compare the effectiveness of the different materials, polyethylene, aluminum, and carbon steel.

Experiments will collect data on the day of the flight as the balloons ascend to the target altitude of approximately 70,000 feet and float for at least four hours. While in flight, they will be exposed to the thermal and atmospheric environment, providing conditions for student experiments that cannot be replicated in ground-based tests. After four hours at float altitude, power will be cut to the experiments, the balloon will detach from the gondola, a parachute will deploy, and the experiments will descend. During landing and recovery, the location of the experiments is tracked, and every effort is made to recover them and return them to the team.

The team had already worked together on other projects, so they knew what they wanted to do going into the challenge. Liang said that NASA awarded the school $1,500 to construct their experiment, a 3-D flight box in which to assemble it (4 x 4 x 8 inches), and a spot on a NASA-sponsored balloon flight to test their experiment.

According to NASA, experiments will be mounted on the gondola frame that hangs from the balloon and rises to 70,000 feet.

Singh said they planned to order materials like sensors and Geiger boards from third-party vendors. "Regarding the coding and all the technical parts of the project, we'll be doing that ourselves with the help of NASA’s mentors and Future Engineers,” Singh said. 

Liang acknowledged that the project is time-constrained. “But I think what we're really focusing more on here is not the scientific gain, but the educational aspect of it… a learning experience,” said Liang.

A complete list of winning teams and more information on the challenge is available on the TechRise website.