New Palestine Jr. High School students chosen for prestigious NASA STEM competition

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Posted at 8:30 AM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 11:30:33-05

NEW PALESTINE — Abi Maple, Gwen Melby, Layla Ratliff and Jianna Tweedy are students at New Palestine Jr. High School with a passion for science.

And they’re also the newest participants in NASA’s TechRise Challenge.

“I like using my hands to do things," Melby said.

“Getting to do all of this with space and engineering sciences it’s like a dream," Ratliff said.

These four seventh grade girls are making their Southern Hancock County community proud.

“I wish everyone was like that. That’s what it’s all about, to be apart of something special," teacher and mentor John Alter said.

Over the summer, the four came to him for guidance while applying for the TechRise Challenge, which offers students the opportunity to design and test their own concepts for space exploration and the study of our planet.

The girls will develop a payload to fly up into the stratosphere on an high-altitude balloon to test the ozone layer.

This month, their group was selected as one of 60 winning teams across the country.

Alter insists all the kudos should go to them.

“I just help guide them is all. They did all the heavy work," Alter said.

Their project is called Sparky 1.

The goal is to collect, test and replicate ozone molecules in order to recreate ozone.

They say they were inspired to do this work because they’re concerned about the global climate crisis.

“We decided to look at the ozone layer and we realized it’s depleting. That will majorly affect our world once it gets to a certain level," Melby said.

“It’s not that the generation before us couldn’t fix it, it’s that they chose not to. That meant that it’s our problem and we need to fix it," Maple said.

In the coming months, the girls will work on their experiment, in preparation for a NASA-sponsored flight test.

With a help of a $1,500 stipend from NASA, they’ll develop skills like coding, building and data analysis.

“I think that we’re all really fast learners and we’ll pick it up and we’re able to do this," Ratliff said.

The girls hope this experience will help them soar high in the future.

“I plan on going to Purdue to study nuclear engineering," Maple said.

“I would like to pursue a career in architectural design," Tweedy said.

The high-altitude balloon will soar 70,000 feet in the air and have approximately four hours of flight time.

The flight is scheduled for the summer.