On Wednesday last week, 30 pupils from Year 10 visited our local UCLan campus to participate in the university’s ‘School Unity Network’ to specifically empower young people with knowledge and opportunities to succeed and progress in Higher Education in the future. A very interestingly named ‘Life on Mars’ workshop about how pupils could investigate whether Mars could support, or has supported life, was presented.
Distances and times involved in communicating with objects sent to Mars, atmospheric pressure, temperature and investigating signs of living things such as movement, respiration, sensitivity, nutrition, excretion, reproduction and growth were all initially explored by pupils.
In the first workshop, pupils in groups learned how to uniquely program a LEGO Mindstorm robotic rover to plan and execute a route across a replicated Martian surface and using teamwork, maths and programming to successfully navigate and ‘drill’ for soil samples.
After lunch pupils undertook a more ‘Chemistry’ focused analysis to the question ‘was ever life on Mars?’ Pupils analysed soil samples that their Rover had fictionally collected during their morning workshop. Using a variety of chemical techniques, the soil samples were analysed to investigate the ‘pH’ values for traces of water and for any existence of nitrate and chloride ions.
After a pupil discussion with lecturers and after an analysis of all factual observations of the chemical tests, it was concluded that several aspects for life were present with water as ice due to the Mars temperature of -55c with nitrite and chloride ions all present. Though pupils had observed a jigsaw of positive evidence existed for life, there was still no conclusive proof that life has been present. However significantly, the lecturing staff predicted that the next generation of future Mars probes will hopefully provide firm proof that life in some form has existed.
We would like to thank UCLan again for providing a highly interactive workshop with hands-on practical science experience. Pupils throughout the day presented fantastic behaviour and were inquisitive throughout their trip.