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Westminster College to Host First Annual STEM Academy Camp, Learning How to Survive on Planet Mars

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Posted on Friday, March 4, 2016

Registration is now open for Westminster College’s first annual STEM Academy, from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day from June 27 – 30. This year, the camp is open to the first 30 students entering grades nine and ten. Registrations following will be added to the waitlist.  

This year’s theme is founded on the book and movie The Martian, concentrating on the experimental science of surviving in outer space. Aside from being given hands on experiences exploring STEM in a college setting, students will conduct experiments alongside Westminster College’s scientists and professors that could lead to their hypothetical survival on Planet Mars.

“We picked this week because Mars will be in its prime viewing position,” said Dr. Pete Smith, event coordinator and professor and chair of chemistry. “We wanted students to spend the morning and afternoon conducting experiments related to living and working on Mars and then, weather permitting, actually observe Mars in the night in Westminster’s Observatory.”

Throughout the experiments and demonstrations, students will examine the microbiology of soil by culturing and identifying the microbes living in the soil at Westminster College; examine solar energy on Earth and Mars by studying how photovoltaics work, testing conditions to maximize energy production, and constructing a working dye-sensitized solar cell; examine the motion of planets and stars in the sky by learning proper stargazing skills and practicing those skills in the Planetarium Theater and Observatory; and examine the challenge of surviving on Mars by investigating the thermodynamics and kinetics of heat flow associated with temperature regulation.

Students will also examine how the human brain is trained for survival by studying how our brains operate in times of stress, testing themselves and laboratory rats to demonstrate whether or not they are wired for survival. In addition, students will assess algorithmic analysis and time complexity by learning how to move vehicles, or Mars rovers, from one point to another in the shortest feasible path.

Students will also participate in field trips to area high-technology companies to learn about the practical aspects of space exploration. Throughout the week, students will remotely interact with NASA scientists through video chats and webinars.

Cost of attendance is $250 for the week. Registration is available at Students who qualify for financial aid should contact Smith at