M.A.R.S. Base

The M.A.R.S. Base simulates a research station on the planet Mars. In this research station the astronauts are conducting experiments that will further our scientific knowlege. Each bay is equipped with everything the students need to complete a scientific investigation and the astronauts work in pairs at science tasks, communicating their results to Mission Control via a dedicated web page until the mission-ending problem arises. The activities cover science concepts specified in VELS Level 4 and represent real science, techniques and ideas that are within the students' grasp.

The experiments conducted by the scientist astronauts during their mission to the Mars Base include:

Water recycling and filtering

 

These scientists take a sample of “Mars” water which is visibly turbid. They measure the turbidity using a simplified Secchi disc. After successive filtering and turbidity measurements they measure the pH of the water sample using the indicator solution created by their fellow scientists. They then distil the water and measure the acidity again. 

Creating indicator solution for acid/alkali testing

Scientists extract an indicator solution from the leaves of red cabbage. They then use it to test a range of common substances and products with which they are familiar. They put a numeric value on the pH using a calibrated pH colour scale developed by VSSEC for this purpose. Students extend their understanding of the nature of acids to include alkalis. They supply indicator solution to the water recycling activity for water testing.

Mars soil analysis

Scientists analyse samples of soil from Earth and Mars, comparing and contrasting the two. They test the soil for the presence of carbonate minerals (indicative of living organisms), measure the pH, record colour differences, test for the presence of moisture and describe the structure of the soil. They build on their prior knowledge of soil to develop a more scientific description using appropriate terms and numerical measures.

Building electrical circuits

These scientists build two simple electrical circuits. The first is a simple buzzer circuit which introduces the idea that electricity flows in a closed loop. The second is “skill tester”, a circuit which tests the fine motor skills of the students as they attempt to move a loop of wire along a torturous path without closing the circuit. This activity engages students who might otherwise find the nature of these science activities too “academic” or esoteric.

Separation of substances by Chromatography

The scientists who undertake this experiment extract dye from the surface of a range of sweets such as Smarties. They then separate the dye into its constituent parts by chromatography. They observe the different rates of transport of the dye components along a strip of filter paper. They also carry out the same exercise with ink from a range of coloured pens.

Extraction of DNA from organic matter

   

This experiment enables students to extract large amounts of DNA from almost any organic material. The scientists are presented with a sample of “Martian slime” which they process to separate the DNA from the rest of the cellular material. This gives students a demonstration of the ubiquity of DNA and the power of simple processes to reveal something fundamental to living organisms.