A 17-year-old student in the UK reached out to NASA regarding an error in their own data, collected from a radiation sensor located on the International Space Station (ISS). Miles Soloman accessed the data through the TimPix Project, where students and teachers are encouraged to take part in the research, when he say readings that weren’t possible.
Soloman made the discovery when reviewing spreadsheets full of data produced by radiation sensors installed on the ISS. He “went straight to the bottom of the list” and began focusing on the lowest readings when he spotted an issue.
During a class discussion, led by Soloman’s teacher and the head of physics at his school, James O’Neill, regarding the data, Soloman came across a low reading of -1 energy. However, readings from the sensors shouldn’t produce anything below zero, as negative energy isn’t possible.
While NASA stated it was aware that the error could occur, they believed it was a relatively rare event, occurring only once or twice a year. However, Soloman found the negative readings occurred multiple times a day.
Soloman contacted NASA regarding the discovery, with NASA expressing appreciation for the correction. A professor at the University of Houston, Larry Pinksy stated that NASA thought the issue had been managed before Soloman’s contribution. Pinksy went on to say the discovery demonstrated the value of the project and stated, “I’m sure there are interesting things the students can find that professionals don’t have time to do.”
Discoveries, such as the one made by Soloman, demonstrate the value of the TimPix Project from the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS). As reported by the BBC, Professor Becky Parker, the director of IRIS, says the project allows for the “expansion of real science in the classroom,” which may help attract more students to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
She continues the sentiment by explaining: “IRIS brings real scientific research into their hands of students no matter their background or the context of the school.” She continues, “The experience inspires them to become the next generation of scientists.”
The TimPix Project began based on research started by Tim Peake, a British astronaut who spent time on the ISS in 2015 and 2016.