NASA1s chief scientist visits middle school |

NASA1s chief scientist visits middle school

Reid Williams

FRISCO<Diane Smith1s eighth-grade science class was spaced out Tuesday<but that1s exactly where she wanted them.The middle school students had a special guest: National Aeronautics and Space Administration Chief Scientist Dr. Kathie Olsen. Visiting Breckenridge for a scientific conference on steroids, the biologist took time out to talk to students about ongoing projects at NASA.3I spend most of my time with scientists, and not so much in classrooms, Olsen said. 3This is a nice opportunity.As chief scientist, Olsen is responsible for ensuring NASA projects are based on sound science. She advises NASA administrators who allot money to experiment and project budgets. Olsen also was nominated by President George Bush for the position of Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House.Those details, however, were a little too down to earth for the students, who wanted to hear more about the moon, Mars and beyond. Olsen, a biologist by training, explained that many NASA scientists participate in the search for life in the universe by doing research here on Earth. Scientists hope to learn where life is likely to be found in space, she told students, by looking at the most inhospitable places on the planet<super-heated deep-sea vents, antarctic ice and deserts where it hasn1t rained in 20 years.Olsen used the talk to quiz students on topics they1ve already studied. She challenged students to answer questions on the nutrients required for life (sunlight, carbon, etc.). She also told students that she never intended to become a scientist and was challenged by her dyslexia.3So, some of you may have a learning disorder, too, Olsen said. 3But you can do whatever you put your mind to, even become a NASA scientist.Smith said the talk was a great way to motivate her students. Middle school science classes introduce topics students will explore in greater detail in high school. Olsen1s references to chemistry, biology and astronomy show students how the lessons learned in the classroom can transfer to exciting science careers.Student Alex Edwards1 imagination already was blasting off. Edwards had the honor of introducing the guest speaker; Olsen visits his family each year when attending conferences and captivates him with NASA stories, he said.3I like science a lot, and I hope to go see a shuttle launch later this year, Edwards said. 3It1d also be pretty cool to go to Mars.Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or

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