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Science project earns students trip to India

HUNTINGTON (AP) — It’s no secret that a good education can take a student very far in the world.

Two Huntington High School students used their education to go halfway around the world earlier this year when their work on a school science project earned them a spot in the annual GLOBE Learning Expedition in New Delhi, India.

Elise Gooding, a senior at the school, and Sarah Cartwright, who graduated from there in May, spent Aug. 1 to 11 traveling to, and participating in, the conference, which is part of a worldwide school-based science and education program. Kalila Baker, another Huntington graduate, also worked in the study, but she was unable to attend the conference.

Five student-teams from North America were invited to attend the conference, and Huntington’s team made the tight cut. A total of 114 countries participate in the program.

GLOBE stands for Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment, and it works in close partnership with NASA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation Earth System Science Projects in study and research of the Earth’s environment.

Likewise, the students’ project was titled “The Effect of Aerosols on the Urban Heat Island Effect,” and, for the layman, Gooding explained the project with ease.

“You know when you’re in a big city, and you’ve got all of this concrete and tall buildings, and it’s scorching hot? Then, you go out of the city, and it drops a few degrees. That’s the urban heat island effect,” she said. “The effect is the heat getting trapped in the city because darker colors tend to absorb more sunlight. It traps the energy in there making an urban heat island.”

Keeping that in mind, the students sought to see how aerosols in the planet’s atmosphere would impact the urban heat island effect.

“Aerosols are those tiny particles in the atmosphere that you can’t see that block the sunlight,” Gooding said. “They can make it hotter or cooler. It depends on where you are.” Even though most people associate aerosols with hairspray, Gooding said they can come from coal fueled power plants and from volcanic ash, which is one of the most common sources of aerosols in the atmosphere.

The students kept track of weather patterns and aerosol levels for a few weeks during the 2013-14 school year, although a series of overcast days meant they had to rely on year-old data.

What they found was inconclusive, Gooding said.

“It was all across the ballpark based on what your surface was,” Gooding said. “There was some high correlation for some aerosols that sky rocketed. There were some where it dropped. There were others where nothing happened. More research needed, I guess.” Their teacher, Rich Sharpe, said he was proud of his students for taking on a project in a relatively new scientific niche.

“It helps to have good students,” Sharpe said. “The idea behind it is to have students around the world make as many observations as they can, so years from now, we can know what climate change is caused by. This something they’re doing for future generations.” Before their trip, Cartwright said she was very excited for her first opportunity to leave the United States.

“For my first trip, I get to go halfway across the world,” she said. “No matter how nerve wracking it is for us to get there, when we come back, we’ll be able to say we went there and had that experience.”

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