“This makes me feel like a scientist,” Parkview Elementary School fifth grader Jaquavis Vrawley said as he and his classmates assembled a mini-weather station with assistance from Stipo Sentic a couple of weeks ago.
“This is really cool,” his classmate Rayann Martinez said.
That was the reaction New Mexico Tech Physics Professor Zeljka Fuchs was looking for. Fuchs is the director of the Climate and Water Consortium and the initiator of the Science of Weather in Schools program. New Mexico Tech’s Climate and Water Consortium recently received a private donation of $10,000 through the FHL Foundation for the program. The FHL Foundation of Albuquerque announced six grants totaling $70,000 in its winter 2018 round of awards.
“We decided to bring this idea to the kids so that we can raise their awareness of climate change, of the environment that they are going to be living in, and also help them fall in love with science, physics and math,” Fuchs said.
She said Science of Weather in Schools is an outreach project to install portable mini-weather stations developed at New Mexico Tech. Fuchs and her team of professors and students are developing kits to build weather stations that will provide hands-on experience for students across New Mexico.
“Most of the weather stations that we buy are very compact so you can’t see what’s inside, so it’s not interesting,” Fuchs said. “So we build them ourselves. And you can 3-D print them. We’ll have schools 3-D print all of the parts and then you buy the sensors. So they’ll have a sensor for temperature, pressure and humidity. And then they have a memory card, and as they put them together, they can think of what they can do with them. They are very sturdy and robust so that nothing will happen to them.”
Through the building process, students will learn engineering skills, Fuchs said.
“Afterwards, they’ll keep a diary, so they’ll learn how to keep a log,” Fuchs said. “After that, they’ll look at the data, which comes out as numbers. Most of the weather stations just give you the plot. So you look at the plot, and it doesn’t sink into your head. As a project, you can actually play with it and put it together. So it’s your baby. You can take it everywhere.”
Fuchs told students they could take the weather station into a shower or on trips, and they can learn about the differences in pressure and humidity in different altitudes and in different parts of the state.
“They can have it inside, outside, in the fridge, in the freezer,” Fuchs said. “They can have it in the car, in the shade, and they can see how the temperature changes. Pressure changes, if there are teachers who can take them to cliffs, they can see how it changes. If someone is taking a trip to Santa Fe, the station can show you how pressure changes because Santa Fe is higher. And humidity is really cool. Usually they love that. You can see it with the shower that you took and see it in the fridge and freezer.”
“That way the kids can get excited about something … and then later in life when they have to take physics, they can say this is going to be fun,” Fuchs added. “They’re going to like it. And if they like it, they’ll do better.”
There are 10 stations. They’ll be at most of the schools in the Socorro Consolidated Schools District.
“We want to get the most kids as possible to see them and experience this,” Fuchs said.
Sentic is the post-doc working on the project. New Mexico Tech students helping with the program include Ph.D. student Jose Martinez and undergrads Sooraj Bhatia and Robin Reinhard.
Fuchs shared some of her story about how she became a scientist with the students at Parkview.
“I fly into hurricanes,” Fuchs said. “Isn’t that cool? Why do we fly into storms? Because we need data. ... I want to share my story with you so that you know you can become whatever you want to be if you love it enough,” Fuchs said.
The program’s activities will depend on the age level. Fuchs said the Consortium team is developing different curricula for four age groups K-3, 4-5, 6-8 and high school.
Fuchs said she wanted to find a way to bridge a gap between researchers and the community since moving back to New Mexico where she had been a graduate student at Tech. That was the reason the Consortium was formed.
“I decided we needed to do something about that gap,” Fuch said. “The best way to do that is to help our environment and where we live, so help Socorro, help New Mexico with their agriculture and with their everyday problems when the weather forecast is concerned. If they knew the next year is going to be very rainy, they could know what to plant accordingly. In order to do that, we need more data. So we formed the Climate and Weather Consortium, whose goal is to place more data around New Mexico and the Southwest.”
The Consortium includes professors from several departments and students in the Physics Department from undergraduates through post-docs. The goal of the Consortium is to improve the New Mexico economy and industry through interdisciplinary research. The Consortium is an innovative problem-solving center for interdisciplinary research and outreach. (https://cwc.nmt.edu/)