Gabriela Albandes de Souza
InnovaSpace Culture & Education Project Manager
The InnovaSpace outreach projects Valentina and Astronaut for a Day had another edition in Brazil last week, with company founder, Dr. Thais Russomano, giving two space science talks to students from the state school Olegário Mariano, in Porto Alegre.
The first lecture, watched by 48 teenagers from the 9th year (aged 14-15 years), focused on the Valentina initiative, which aims is to raise the interest of girls in the sciences and to break gender prejudice by highlighting those women who have made important contributions to the development of the space program since its inception. Following a final Q & A session in which the curious students asked many interesting questions, the group were asked to use their creativity to build a rocket using simple materials provided by the school, such as fizzy drink bottles, cardboard boxes and aluminium foil. Chatting with the students afterwards we found that, while some said they already intended to pursue careers in the STEM areas, others became interested after getting to know the many possibilities that these fields offer.
The second lecture of the day, called Astronaut for a Day and attended by 25 5th year students (aged 10-11 years), explained how astronauts live and work in space, the impact of microG and radiation on human physiology, and the importance of the spacecraft and spacesuit in keeping the astronauts alive and well in space. The students also watched a video about the life of the crew aboard the ISS and were amazed by the differences between life in space and on Earth. These inquisitive young people actively participated in the event, raising their hands to answer questions posed by Dr. Russomano (five raised hands when asked who wanted to be an astronaut), and coming up with questions of their own about many aspects of life in space. At the end of the presentation, this group were set the task of making a spacesuit from the materials provided, while a group of young ladies resolved to create a spacecraft.
The team at InnovaSpace send a big thank you to biologist Adriana Bos-Mikich, who conducted the first Astronaut for a Day project in Brazil and introduced us to the Director of the Olegário Mariano school, Gustavo Adolfo Albrecht, who welcomed the initiative. Our thanks also go to the Science and Biology teachers, Marcia Tagliani and Johnny Pereira de Aguiar respectively, who helped greatly in organising the activities.
A few members of the InnovaSpace team had the pleasure of meeting up in September this year in the beautiful city of Lisbon. Although primarily for work purposes linked to the launch of the Space Network (Rede Espaço) at the University of Lisbon, we must NEVER forget to mix a little pleasure wherever the opportunity presents itself - and as you will see from the photos, we had fun in Lisbon too!
Picturesque Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, is one of the oldest cities in Europe, full of history, culture, and great food. The traditional dish bacalhau (codfish) is famous and has to be tried, while for lovers of something a little sweeter, the pastéis de Belém (a type of egg custard tart) are legendary and were originally made by monks of the Jerónimos Monastery using a secret recipe. As many of these mouth-watering tarts were eaten in our time in Lisbon, it seemed only fitting that we should also visit their place of invention! The former monastery dates back to 1495 and is well worth a visit, especially on a sunny day, and it was from there that Dr. Joan Vernikos, former NASA Director of Life Sciences recorded the few words below, encouraging young people to consider following a career in space research - there couldn't have been a more beautiful setting!
The tagline of the InnovaSpace Valentina project is ‘Science is for girls too!’ – an ideal we very much support, and an excellent example of which is Space Physiologist, Dr. Julia Attias, who is a PhD Researcher at King's College London.
I had the pleasure of meeting Julia a few years ago when she was doing her Master’s degree in Space Physiology and Health (2012) at King’s College London, which then led on to her completing a PhD in Space Physiology (2018). Julia is passionate about inspiring young ladies to pursue a career in the STEM areas, and dedicates some of her time to writing blogs for websites such as WISE (Women In Science and Engineering), and a charity, GlamSci, aimed at breaking down perceived stereotypes and barriers to STEM areas. We asked Julia a few questions about her life and path to becoming a space physiologist:
What sort of child were you?
I can say I was a very energetic child and very focused on sports activities from a very early age. My Mum was a tennis coach, so from about the age of about 4 years old, I could be found running around a tennis court, gripping my first racquet in hand, on which someone had spray-painted the letter ‘J’. Naturally enough by the time I started school my favourite subject was PE (physical education), at which I was always very competitive indeed!
What were your school years like?
I was lucky enough to go to great schools; I enjoyed my school years and made some good friends. At primary school I sometimes used to get in trouble for talking too much, but in fact it wasn’t just idle chatter for the sake of it, it was my constant curiosity about anything and everything that made me ask questions and comment out loud - too loud sometimes!
I loved music (probably inspired by my Dad who was a drummer) and being in plays at primary school, and continued this on into my teenage years when I joined the Pineapple Performing Arts School in Covent Garden. I learned street dance, singing and acting there, and grew up wanting to be in front of the camera - this ambition I have since achieved through participating in a Discovery Channel series called 'Meet The SuperBrains' and more recently in the Channel 4 series 'Food Unwrapped''.
What sparked your interest in science?
Through all my sporting activity, the idea that humans are designed to move around was embedded in me from a very young age. I would run around the tennis court and wonder why my heart beat so much faster, curious about the mechanisms involved within our body that allow us to run and jump, and improve our endurance and strength. In PE we began to have lessons about sports theory and I soon realised that science was a field of study that could answer some of my questions, whilst at the same time posing so many more questions that still required responses. This hooked my interest and I began to enjoy the triple sciences at high school, especially biology, as I could learn more about how the human body functions. This really did direct the path of my career as I then went on to take a sports science degree at university.
How did you jump from sports to space science?
I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘space-geek’ and I never started off with the intention of a career in space science. I was never drawn to watching sci-fi programs on TV or films, like Star Wars or Star Trek, but what I really found interesting when I did my degree was learning about how the body functions in extreme environments, and you can’t really get more of an extreme environment than being up in Space! Quite by chance I found out that King’s College do a Master’s degree in Space Physiology and Health, and so I jumped at the chance of doing in, and the rest is history! There is an overlap between sports science and space physiology because of the fundamental scientific concepts that exist between them, but there are many other science disciplines you can study where you will also find this overlap, for example nutrition, medicine, pharmacy, engineering, physiotherapy, and many, many more.
What advice would you give to girls who are at school right now?
Don’t be put off by the STEM subjects at school and try to study some of them. You might have no idea at the moment what career you want to follow, but if you have some of the core subjects there it will always help you, as they always overlap with so many other areas.
Don’t be put off by stereotypes of the sciences and engineering being only for boys – times are changing and will continue to change. As a woman in the area of space science, I have to admit that I still see far fewer women than men when I look around the conference room of a scientific congress, however, I don’t see this as a negative - I see it as a golden opportunity for me to make my mark and to help change attitudes for the future generation.
Try to find something you feel passionate about – this will fill you with the motivation you need to work hard, be determined, and succeed.
And to finish off a few random questions...
Albert Einstein changed classical physics by stating that time is not an absolute quantity, but rather it is relative, as it depends on the speed of the bodies that measure its passage. This relationship to movement is called time dilation, where time passes more slowly to rapidly moving objects. To illustrate this theory, Einstein created a story about two identical twins, in which one travels to a distant planet at the speed of light, while the other remains on Earth. On returning from his cosmic journey, the twin who travelled is younger than his brother who remained on solid ground.
The Flux Phase theatre group has transformed this complex physics theory into a creative and entertaining play, which bears the same name as given by Einstein - Twin Paradox. Six actors give life to the Theory of Relativity, combining aspects of Einsteinian physics with the body alterations suffered by the twins after three decades of separation, and the emotional conflicts generated by a reunion after so many years.
This theatre group has already taken the Twin Paradox to various cities in England, including London, where it was part of the Camden Fringe Festival. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch it at The Albany - my first play seen in an English pub. After the show, I sat down for a celebratory drink with the actors, who were already known to me, as a few months previously I had the chance to talk to the group about how the human body and mind behave in an extraterrestrial environment, and upon return to Earth.
I'm not sure how long we were sat there sipping our drinks on that hot English summer Saturday. "Time really is relative", I thought. However, it is not only the speed of bodies that matter. Emotions also affect the way in which we measure their passage.
(Translation of the original article, written by Thais Russomano, and published in the Diario Popular journal, Pelotas, Brazil. Version in Portuguese can be found at https://www.diariopopular.com.br/index.php?n_sistema=4059&id_noticia=MTM0NTg4&id_area=MTUw )
InnovaSpace Founder, CEO & Scientific Director
Set your imagination flowing and just consider the following scenario:
"What's your preference? Cultural holidays? Something more adventurous?" asked the travel agent.
The clients would think for a moment and then, slightly hesitantly, they would respond. "We like extreme sports, like mountain climbing, parachute jumping, or diving into the depths of the oceans."
"Excellent - and so I suggest Mars! On the Red Planet there is an extinct volcano, Mount Olympus, the highest in the Solar System, three times taller than our own Everest!" recommended the agent.
"And there the gravity is just one-third that of Earth, which reduces your body to just over 30% of what you weigh here. Therefore, it's even easier to climb mountains there." I added, as the Space Medic of the Intergalactic Travel Agency.
This conversation and many others like it could be heard during a summer festival in London's Brockwell Park in late July, thanks to the creative thinking of Guerrilla Science, who wanted to present the idea of the possibility of experiencing holiday trips to different planets.
Children and adults entered into the game, discussing possible destinations, the activities that could be offered on each planet, or on the moon or an asteroid, the distances to be travelled, and the costs of such a vacation to places far beyond the limits of the Earth. Actors played the role of the travel agents, while I introduced aspects of space tourism that can affect the health of intergalactic adventurers, such as exposure to radiation, the absence of gravity, and confinement within a spacecraft.
Projects, such as this, still belong in the realms of science fiction for now, but they will begin to take shape in the not-so-distant future with the political, scientific and technological advances of Space Tourism. And in response to those of you who do not believe such a thing, Albert Einstein would say - "Something is only impossible until someone doubts it and ends up proving otherwise.”
Phil Carvil, PhD
MedTech Cluster Development Manager at STFC, and all-round fitness and Space fanatic!
My name is Phil Carvil and I recently completed my PhD at King’s College London, undertaking a technical evaluation of the European Space Agency’s SkinSuit, as part of their Networking/Partnering program, in which I investigated how the spine is affected by the axial loading properties of the suit. But how I personally arrived at this point, and in this career, is a little different.
My father got me interested in space science through astronomy and science fiction, while my mother aroused my curiosity about medicine through her work as an intensive care nurse. This sparked my initial interest in the fields of space exploration and human physiology. At school I loved science but hated P.E. as I had no confidence in this area and no real understanding of why exercise was good for me. Nonetheless, while at college a friend took me to the gym (nearly kicking and screaming) and it was from that moment on that I started to take part in fitness classes and group exercise, and began to become interested in fitness.
Around this time, I was deciding where to do my bachelors degree, which I had planned on doing in astrophysics, however, I was becoming more and more interested in what was happening to my body through exercise and why. What were the mechanisms for the benefit of exercise? How was it working? Did I need to do more/less? These questions drove my decision to undertake an applied BSc in Exercise and Health Science at the University of Chichester.
I loved the course so much I went on to do a Masters degree in Sport and Exercise Physiology. I was fascinated with learning how the various physiological systems, heart, lungs, bones, muscles, psychology, all change in response to exercise stimulus. But what began to steer my path more towards space was finding out how extreme environments change our body, how it responds to alterations in temperature, atmosphere and, ultimately, gravity.
To apply my skill-sets further I became a trainer, health mentor and instructor for Nuffield Health. Here I was able to train and work with a large variety of people, all with different needs and goals. It was immensely rewarding and I still teach classes to this day, however that curiosity was still in my mind, what happens to the human body in the most extreme environment – space? Around this time, I noticed that a new course (MSc) in Space Physiology had started at King’s College London, and it took me all of 10 seconds to pick up the phone and ask if there were places available. It was not long after this that while on my way to the course induction, I met in the elevator someone who was to become one of my best friends, Julia, who strangely enough had a similar journey to me for arriving in a space-related career.
Over the period of the course we heard from so many leading experts in their field about how the body works and changes, both on Earth and in Space. The MSc course is supported by the Space Medicine Office of the European Astronaut Centre at the European Space Agency (ESA), which provided us with a rich array of experts, contacts and opportunities. And in fact, the opportunity that led both Julia and myself to our PhDs was our Master’s degree dissertation focused on the Gravity Loading Countermeasure SkinSuit. (GLCS). This was a newly designed suit by James Waldie and Dava Newman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the suit sought to ‘reload’ the body through staged axial loading from shoulders to feet. ESA sought to understand if this technology could be suitable for use as an astronaut countermeasure. The opportunity arose for us to apply our skill-sets in exercise physiology to answer the question of how this suit affected the physiological response to exercise. Was it comfortable to wear? How much did it load the body? Was it thermally tolerable? These are important questions to be considered, especially when you are considering asking someone to wear this suit for potentially long periods of time.
It was this journey (supported along the way by some incredible mentors, friends and family) that led me to the successful completion of my PhD and where I am today, together with my key interests in fitness – why the body changes with exercise and a curiosity for the extreme environment of space.
For anyone interested, details of the King's College London Space Physiology & Health MSc can be found using this LINK. It's a one-year full-time degree course where you mix with like-minded people interested in Space, and have the opportunity to meet international experts who research and work with space agencies, like ESA and NASA, and you also have visits to RAF and Space Agency (ESA & DLR) facilities.
Gabriela Albandes de Souza
InnovaSpace Culture & Education Project Manager
InnovaSpace took another step this week towards achieving its aim of bringing space closer to society, to reach out to underserved communities, and to make science and space more accessible and inclusive, when InnovaSpace founder Thais Russomano gave a virtual lecture about the participation of women in the space programme to an audience of 39 young ladies, aged between 10 and 12 years from two state-run schools in Gravataí, Brazil, as part of a project called ‘Elas no Lab’ (Girls in the Lab).
This project is the brainchild of three high school students from the Escola Sesi de Ensino Médio Albino Marques Gomes, a private high school in the same city in southern Brazil. Eduarda Rosa Ferreira, Indáia Pereira de Matos and Júlia Alvares Missel had the idea of creating workshops to raise the interest of young girls to pursue scientific careers, as part of a project led by their Physics teacher Cláudia Fraga Germano. Cláudia set her students the task of developing projects that would benefit state-run schools, which often do not receive sufficient funding to invest in the sciences, and lack proper laboratories and equipment. The activities also involved a rocket building workshop using recycled materials, a VR glasses experience that allowed the girls to virtually “travel around the universe”, the photo and video recording of the activities, and an exclusive Q & A session about space science with Thais Russomano at the end of her lecture. Feedback from the girls who attended the event was very positive, with many celebrating this unique and fun experience of learning about science. Another mission accomplished successfully due to a collaboration of working ideas and ideals in partnership! However, consider this just a first step – as InnovaSpace is proud to announce the launch of a new outreach project called Valentina – more details to be posted soon!
InnovaSpace Founder, CEO & Scientific Director
The importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) education has long been talked about, with education policy and curriculum choices targeting these areas to improve competitiveness in science and technology development, and to try and address the shortage of skills in the workforce. While these subjects are extremely relevant in today's world, they do not underpin the innovative process in isolation, often requiring a streak of creativity and imagination to set an idea free. History demonstrates well the productive link between the STEM areas and Art, with Leonardo da Vinci being a classic example - both a great scientist and astounding artist.
The practice of art in its numerous senses, such as, language, physical art, music and design, among many others, can provide imaginative opportunities for communication and expression and inspire the young to be creative with their ideas. Blending art into the STEM areas can also provide a conduit by which to attract the interest of those who might not normally consider the sciences. Although a scientist and doctor myself, I have always been drawn to the arts and am equally as happy writing an article on space physiology as I am writing a romance novel. So when I was contacted by a gentleman from a theatre group wanting to know if I could share a little space knowledge with them, I was delighted to say yes!
The FLUX Phase theatre group brings together a diverse group of actors in training, currently completing an MA in Acting at the E15 Acting School in Loughton, Essex. Their latest production is based on Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, which states that as you travel close to the speed of light, time passes more slowly. So imagine if one identical twin makes a journey into space on a near light-speed spaceship, leaving the other twin at home on Earth, and then returns from 30 years space travel. Will the twin who stayed home have aged more? Will one look much older than the other? This is the Twin Paradox!
I had the great pleasure of virtually meeting with this group of actors to discuss the effects that microgravity has on the human body during a space mission - of which there are many! We chatted about bones, muscles, heart, lungs and the brain, and how these all react to being in an environment where there is no gravity, and in turn, they asked many interesting questions related to body movement and human behaviour in space - an interesting two-way process of bringing together science and art.
The clip below of a rehearsal session is just a taste of this very interesting and creative production, which can be seen at The Albany in Gt Portland Street, London, as part of The Camden Fringe on the 4th & 5th August 2018. Well worth a visit, and anyone turning up in a spacesuit or an Albert Einstein mask can enter for free!!
"The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin ... or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity." Mae Jemison, 1st African American woman in space
Blog written by Susanne Cappendijk, PhD, MBA, Founder and CEO of EDsnaps Inc, a 501(c)(3) organization focused on "Increasing Diversity in the STEM Workforce", New York City, NY, USA
On a bright September morning some 4 years ago, I was preparing the voluntary before-school session for the middle school SciGirls Club Program in Tallahassee, FL. One of the 6th graders entered the classroom stating, “Hey Dr. C, I like SciGirls a lot, but I do not like math”.
Over the past 20 years, I have heard this statement and its variations repeatedly from female students, ranging from age 5-18. And every time I hear it my blood starts boiling, my toes are cringing, my eyes are turning red and smoke comes out of my ears; you get the picture. However, I play it cool and ask the student, “Why do you not like math? You do math all the time and you are pretty good at it as you are here on time!” Then I explain to the student that in order to be on time, she used math as an application to calculate the time needed to travel from home to school. Students often do not consider time as a concept of math.
In the STEM curricula that I designed over the years, we use a variety of applications to show that STEM is fun. Physics is fun when applied in a self-defense seminar. Math is fun when applied on a 3D-cube shape. Engineering is fun when applied to building an electric circuit. And who does not like to step into Augmented or Virtual Reality, which applies and combines numerous disciplines of STEM.
Why do students in general, and female students in particular, demonstrate a misleading perception towards STEM disciplines? The Oxford Dictionary defines perception as “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something, a mental impression”. The reason(s) for having this misleading impression can be due to several factor(s): geo-location, gender, family heritage, socio-economic classes, educational programs, and cultural background. Every one of us has experienced this issue (in)directly. Think of the family member who did not like math and repeatedly shared this vision, or a teacher discouraging your friend because she did not have grades to apply to a good college, or a neighbor discouraging girls not study math because math is not for girls, or parents who are not supportive of their daughters pursuing a post secondary education.
How can we interrupt this flow of misleading perception? Is the mental impression irreversibly anchored in the minds of female students? As a neuroscientist I argue that it is not. Everyone, including students, is exposed to the outside world, which continuously affects the brain circuitry. A STEM outreach program that provides positive real-life fun STEM experiences might initiate a perpetual central change. One might argue that this thought is simple, idealistic, and imperfect. However, I am not striving for perfection since perfection usually means stagnation and stagnation is detrimental to a change in mental impression.
We, as outreach STEM and STEAM educators, need to offer opportunities to students using socio-economic status, geo-location, gender, race, or age as positive tools to re-wire neuronal pathways. Our main goal should be to create a positive mental impression of STE(A)M for any student. Does my advocacy work? Yes it does. Our previous programs with the middle school SciGirls in Florida and our 3-week EDsnaps Program launched this past summer with underserved female high school students in the Bronx are living proof. Seeing is believing, check out the video in which the EDsnaps students demonstrate their awaking growth-mindset
Blog written by Mary Upritchard, InnovaSpace Admin Director
It really is just a matter of time before a manned space mission is launched into deep space, whether once more to the Moon or more likely to Mars. Of course, the time scale is still being measured in years, but interest in such a venture is growing fast and there are already leading players with plans to reach the Red Planet in the next decade.
Elon Musk of SpaceX has an ambitious plan to send a crewed rocket to Mars by 2024 using an under-development reusable rocket that will ultimately replace his Falcon rockets; the Mars One group are aiming to land a Mars crew by 2031 using technology bought from other aerospace companies; and NASA is currently testing its Orion spacecraft for use with the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket that will be capable of propelling humans and cargo out of Earth orbit.
The NASA journey to Mars will include a series of stages, an ambitious step-by-step plan to put humans into low-Mars orbit by the 2030's. The Earth Reliant phase will continue to build on research already being conducted on the International Space Station; the Proving Ground phase will see a series of missions near the Moon – called “cislunar space” – assessing the capabilities needed to live and work on Mars; and finally, the Earth Independent phase will test the entry, descent and landing techniques needed to alight safely on the Martian surface, and study how the natural planet resources can be used to sustain a human presence.
In the recently advertised Project Mars International Film and Art Competition, launched by SciArt Exchange, and with the support of NASA, young enthusiasts of Space and Mars exploration will have the opportunity to get their creative juices flowing, producing either a 5-minute film or designing a promotional poster focused on any aspect of the NASA plans to arrive at the Red Planet. Whether individually, or working as a team, let your imaginations loose and help visualise humankind’s journey into deep space. The global competition is open to early career professionals (less than 5 years experience) and college students from anywhere in the world, and the only cost involved in submitting is in terms of your time, your imagination and your endless enthusiasm for Space. The panel of competition judges is made up of leading experts from the worlds of space and art, including astronauts Nicole Stott (NASA) and Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA), Film Director Gareth Edwards (Star Wars, Godzilla, Monsters) and Joshua Grossberg, Vice President Creative Director of McCann New York, a global award winning advertising agency.
It's time to breakout your multimedia software and direct your thoughts towards how you would feel living and working on a space station orbiting the Moon? What would it be like to be confined within a spacecraft for many months, hurtling through deep space, further and further away from home and toward a planet so very different from your own? And what would you imagine the arrival at the Red Planet to be like? There are so many questions that will remain unanswered until the day humans step foot on Martian soil, however, in the meantime, we are limited only by our own imaginations - set your mind free and dream your way into Space!
Visit www.ProjectMarsCompetition.org for more details about the contest, judging panel, prizes and FAQs.
Entrants may also wish to visit http://projectmars.freeforums.net/ - a useful discussion platform through which NASA engineers can be asked any technical questions you may have, where you can talk with like-minded people about your ideas and progress, or even look for collaborators to strengthen your team and boost your chances of landing the big prize - Good Luck to everyone!