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It's Just Rocket Science
by Ronit Kumar, BCIL Facilities Design, and Gianna Vargas, Middle School Science Teacher

Space: The final frontier. “...4, 3, 2, 1…” The timing was hilariously off. That did not change the elation exhibited by 7th graders as they screamed excitedly at multiple rockets elevating themselves to the height of the 6th graders watching from the fifth floor balconies above. It was a small step for them, but hopefully “a giant leap for humankind.” After all, the world could use a few more rocket engineers. 

The previous week, we had introduced 7th Grade SEL cohorts to the concept of pressure. With simple materials found at Walgreens or CVS (we used Polident and water), one can induce a chemical reaction that produces CO2 gas as one of the products. Containing this reaction in a film canister builds up pressure. Eventually the pressure overcomes the seal of the canister cap and gets released in an instant. This causes the film canister to fly up to heights of over 20 feet! It was fun to see the students work through many iterations to discover the optimal recipe for the longest flight time. Apparently this recipe is one crushed up tablet and one fifth of the film canister filled up with water. 

The following week, we decided to scale up the procedure and introduce materials that were much larger. Students  made rockets using two liter bottles. The fuel and oxidizer for this reaction were vinegar and baking soda, two more common household products that can be bought at Walgreens or CVS. Using these two reactants and plugging a cork into the 2 liter bottle allowed for the same concept to be represented at a much larger scale. It was fun to see the creativity exhibited with the rockets’ fins and nose cone designs. We were amazed at how high some of these rockets went. 

Watch the launch here.

The entire world recently witnessed the historic landing of NASA’s Perseverance Rover and SpaceX’s SN10 Rocket. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate these iconic achievements than by having a hands on learning experience fun for all ages. More to come from Middle School science! To infinity, and beyond.

Image: Andrew Rader/Galen Frazer

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