Diving for knowledge

Experience: Middle school pupils head underwater to learn about the effects of microgravity and the physical limitations of the human body.

November 18, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Encased in wet suits, air tanks strapped to their backs, a group of seventh-graders from Loch Raven Academy Middle School probed the bottom of a swimming pool yesterday as part of a mock satellite repair and retrieval project.

"Wherever you go, you float. It's hard to get around," explained Jaurette Dozier, 11, of Randallstown, among the 15 pupils who spent several hours suspended in chlorinated water instead of dark outer space. "I think it's a lot like a space walk."

Jaurette and his classmates experienced the effects of microgravity, which is a reduced force of gravity that results in weightlessness, and the physical limitations of the human body as part of a study course created by Loch Raven engineering technology teacher Michael Dodd-o. So far, three classes have completed the project.

"It's a nice way to get them interested about learning," said Dodd-o, who watched teams of pupils bob and dive at an indoor pool at Calvert Hall College, a Roman Catholic boys high school across the street from Loch Raven, which doesn't have a pool.

He called the dive "a good way to bring a lot of subjects together in one lesson," adding that during recent class sessions pupils constructed pneumatic-powered robot arms from Legos. They also studied Boyle's Law to understand the effects of air pressure on the human ear.

For pupils, the project represents many firsts -- including a chance to learn how to scuba dive with experts from Aqua Ventures, a diving shop in Cockeysville.

"It's so much fun," said Wsam Gazi, 12, of Towson, who was one of the last pupils to leave the pool and discard his scuba equipment. "I love this class."

During their dive, Wsam and Jaurette worked with assistant scuba instructor Rich Bryant of Aqua Ventures to retrieve a lost satellite -- a mock-up created from plastic foam pieces.

Bryant and Aqua Ventures owner Mike Eversmier were in the pool to help the pupils with their scuba equipment and to pull them out of the water in case of an emergency.

"This is the first time I've taught scuba when there was a satellite involved," Bryant said, laughing.

To aid in the satellite retrieval, the young astronauts constructed "gripping" tools out of PVC pipe, wing nuts and bolts. Each tool had its own look, including pitchfork and scissors designs.

Piecing together and maneuvering the gripping tools under water were more difficult than pupils expected. For some, it gave them a new respect for the tasks astronauts perform in outer space.

"When you watch them on TV, it looks really easy," said seventh-grader Erica Jager, 12, referring to NASA astronauts on space walks. "But now I have a good idea of the things they deal with. It must be a hard job."

Erica and her team members -- Jeni Bowers and O. J. Spikes, both 12 -- had a tough time using their gripper tool to pull the lost satellite through the water. Still, they beat another group. "We did it, we did it," they cried.

Watching the hoopla poolside was Andrew Lapayowker, 45, of Stoneleigh, whose son David, 12, was in the pool working to repair a downed satellite's batteries -- bottles of water rigged with multicolored wires -- and get it back into geosynchronous orbit.

Said Lapayowker: "I never got to do things like this when I was in junior high school."

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