Students Explore Out Of This World Experience


James Madison University’s Outreach and Engagement and the Department of Physics and Astronomy held their space camp last week, attracting over 80 middle school students from Waynesboro, Augusta County and the rest of the Valley. 

The summer camp was led by Shanil Virani, director of the John C. Wells Planetarium, who explained in depth why things are the way they are. 

“We seek to inspire and excite the next generation of scientists and engineers,” Virani said. 

The students received a visit from Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz, the first Hispanic-American NASA astronaut who flew on the space shuttle a record seven times. Students also met with Dr. Jill Prince, a NASA/Langley Research Center scientist. 

The planetarium is a $1.5 million state-of-the-art facility on the university’s campus, and the camp provided experience to JMU’s Science on the Sphere, a sphere-shaped visualization tool developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Funding and resources were provided by NASA.

“I like the camp. It is really fun because I have always liked science and space,” said 10-year-old Lydia Maca. “They have a lot of activities. There is this one thing we did with playdough. We had to make the planets to size. I didn’t realize how small and how big some are. I learned how really strong the sun is and that it can hurt you.”

Virani tested the children inside the dome with various questions, in addition to showing off things like the Milky Way and planets. 

“The kids have had a great time and we have really pushed them to come with design and engineering solutions to problems like, ‘How do we fix our exterior lights so that we don't produce light pollution?’, ‘How do we design rovers and landers that safely land expensive, sensitive cargo on a planet or asteroid?’ Kids and parents have communicated to our team what a wonderful experience they have had,” Varani said.

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Posted: July 21, 2013

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Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013

Last Updated: Thursday, June 25, 2020

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