It’s not every day that residents of Washington County are thinking about sending experiments into space — but that’s exactly what Camren Mumme, an eighth grade student at Sipayik Elementary School, is doing.
For the past school year, Mumme has been planning and developing an experiment that tests the radiation shielding properties of different elemental compounds, with a goal of replacing lead in common medical applications and improving safety for spacefarers.
Two composites are being tested, both with epoxy resins. The first, barium sulfate, was selected in part as it is already used in medical procedures to detect anomalies in the gastrointestinal system, Mumme explained. “We know it absorbs X-rays, so we’re trying to see if it will absorb gamma rays as well.” The second composite incorporates bismuth trioxide.
To get the composites into space and monitor how well they shield from radiation, Mumme and his teacher-advisor, Rhonda Stevens, have been working with Teachers in Space. Last year, Stevens attended an introductory workshop about the program, which helped seed and encourage Mumme’s idea.
“We were told that if our kids came up with an experiment, it would fly,” Stevens said. “That made the commitment to the process valuable in that the students knew it wouldn’t be something that would be pulled away from them after they had invested so much time and effort.”
With the opportunity in front of him to send an experiment into space, Mumme devised the first model of the project in September to be sent on a Blue Origin flight. Referring to it as more of an “engineer’s sample,” the first version incorporated a 3D-printed CubeSat casing, made with the school’s 3D printers.
However, it lacked proper housing for the elemental compounds, Mumme says, and last month a second design was completed with new molding and casing for the Geiger counter itself. The new design is internally powered, includes an altimeter and has an SD — Secure Digital — card reader built in, enabling data to be easily stored.
Now that the second design is completed, Teachers in Space is looking to incorporate it into a flight of the Perlan stratospheric glider later this year. The Perlan glider typically attains altitudes of 65,000 feet, though the flight with Mumme’s experiment may push its previous records and shoot for higher than 90,000 feet. The date of the flight hasn’t yet been announced.
While it isn’t yet known when the data will be accessible, Mumme is excited about having come this far in the project. Professing that he’s had an interest in space since he was in single digits, he is now enjoying the opportunity to combine that with his mounting enthusiasm for CAD design, electrical engineering and computer programming.
Noting that working on this experiment involved “a variety of mixtures and materials,” Stevens highlighted the importance of support from Dan Morang, principal at Sipayik Elementary. “Mr. Morang was supportive in permitting me to provide the materials and allowing Cam the freedom to test his own concepts and designs.”
As far as what’s next, Mumme says he is open to opportunities to design and launch new experiments, though he doesn’t have anything specific in mind quite yet.
Sign up here to receive The Maine Monitor’s free Downeast Monitor newsletter that focuses on Washington County news.
This article first appeared in the Quoddy Tides and was republished with permission.