Cubes in Space: UConn 4-H Robotics Program

Granby 4-H members in front of rocket launchUConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn Extension. 4-H is a community of over 6 million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including civic engagement and healthy living.

Using STEM concepts, 4-H members develop, design, and practice their robotic skills through various local, regional, and national programs. In addition, the 4-H’ers maintain engineering journals of their robot design process in order to develop and strengthen their record keeping skills. Participants also demonstrate and hone their public speaking and research skills through competitions and presentations.

Members implement the values of the 4-H motto to Make the Best Better by improving their robot after practice and competition sessions.

Eight youth from the Granby 4-H Club along with their leader, Rachael Manzer, a UConn 4-H volunteer, successfully launched three experiments into space on a NASA rocket in 2018. Manzer is the STEM coach at the Winchster Public Schools, and leads youth in three robotics project areas as part of the 4-H curriculum.

Cubes in SpaceTM is a global competition designed to help students ages 11-18 develop curiosity, and logical and methodical thought. Selected participants launch experiments into space annually at no cost to the participants. The program is managed by idoodledu inc., and collaborates with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility, NASA Langley Research Center, and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

It took the Granby 4-Hers approximately four months to write their experimental proposals based on their interest, long hours of research, and thinking. These proposals were then submitted to Cubes in SpaceTM where experts reviewed all applications. After making it through the first round, 4-Hers answered questions, revised their proposals, and resubmitted them for a second review.

4-H members note that they have benefited from participating in the 4-H Robotics Program by gaining and enhancing their skills; for example, in the area of spatial geometry or in programming using the C language. Also, these experiences have provided opportunities for them to demonstrate and strengthen their teamwork and cooperation skills in preparation for their future education and careers.

Final decisions were made after months of waiting. All three Granby 4-H proposals were selected as part of the 80 experiments chosen from the 450 total proposals submitted by youth from the U.S. and international locations.

The three experiments from the Granby 4-H Club included “Bees in Space” where honeycombs were launched, “Rubber Bands in Space,” and “Gallium in Space,” all of which were proposed by the 4-Hers themselves.

Bees in Space

The “Bees in Space” experiment studied if honeycomb changes shape during flight. Club members took pieces of honeycomb from the club bee hive to design the experiment. The research question was: Will
the honeycomb change its shape during a flight to space?

When colonizing a planet, a constant food source is necessary. Bees are necessary for pollinating plants which creates food and oxygen. When bees were first sent to space in 2009, the bee eggs did not hatch and the bees died. The bees likely used all their energy on the hive. To help the bees

preserve their energy, the team sent up a honeycomb to eliminate the need to build one. This experiment looks at if the honey- comb shape is strong enough to withstand a flight on a rocket.

Rubber Bands in Space

The “Rubber Bands in Space” group evaluated how rubber bands are affected by a microgravity environment by creat- ing a rubber band ball. Rubber bands are used by astronauts as part of their exercise equipment. This team hypothesized that if the rubber band ball is exposed to a micro- gravity environment, then the rubber bands will change and no longer be as effective or work at all.

They believed the temperature on the rocket space flight would melt the elastics together slightly, cool back down, and cause them to dry. The team thought the rubber band ball may not bounce as high as it did before, and it may bounce at dif- ferent angles instead of just straight up and down, especially if it melts.

Gallium in Space

Gallium is a post transition metal. What is so unique about this metal is that it has a melting point of 29.77 degrees Celsius (85.586 F). Gallium doesn’t occur as pure Gallium in nature, but as a compound with other metals. These compounds are

often used as semi and superconductors. On its own, gallium is a semiconductor. Gallium’s most similar alloys are used in LEDs and diode lasers.

Gallium is a soft metal and might change shape due to motions during space flight. If gallium doesn’t change shape,
it may be one of the best conductors of electricity used in space. The team hypothesized that gallium would change shape during space flight, due to heat when exit- ing the atmosphere.

All participants of the 80 selected experiments were invited for the launch at NASA Wallops Center in Virginia where they presented their experiments to an audience of 300 people that included NASA and Cubes in SpaceTM officials, other participants, teachers, sponsors, and family members.

Members gained valuable experiences through participating in the Cubes in SpaceTM project. 4-Hers learned the importance of working together, how 4-H and STEM fit together, and learned the process of doing research. The experience provided the Granby 4-H members with the opportunity to practice problem solving skills, answer their own questions, embrace their curiosity, and gain valuable experience in the world of STEM.

Article by Jen Cushman