Dust is an issue that causes problems on many scales, here on Earth and beyond. This series of STEM projects allows students to examine some of the problems dust may cause on Earth, the Moon or Mars and design possible solutions.
The problem with dust
Dust is defined in the Oxford dictionary as a “Fine, dry powder consisting of tiny particles of earth or waste matter lying on the ground or on surfaces or carried in the air.”
Dust is considered an air pollutant that can cause health issues for any organisms that breath it in, also damaging plants, such as crops, and causing problems in aquatic ecosystems. When speaking about dust as an air pollutant, it is usually spoken about using the term particulate matter. Particulate matter or PM is a mixture of solid and liquid particles that can be a range of shapes, sizes and contain a range of different harmful and unharmful substances. The smaller the dust particles, the harder it is to remove them from lungs.
Apollo astronauts had huge problems with lunar dust during moon landings, including it coating and scratching surfaces, interfering with scientific instruments and causing health issues. Captain Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, was quoted as saying “Dust was the biggest hazard to lunar exploration”.
Capt. Gene Cernan coated in lunar dust https://images-assets.nasa.gov/image/AS17-145-22224/AS17-145-22224~orig.jpg (NASA)
As we have started to explore further in our solar system, dust has proven to be an ongoing issue. Exploration on Mars by NASA rovers has encountered numerous delays and equipment damage due to dust. In 2018, NASA lost communication completely with the Opportunity rover due to a massive dust storm coating its solar panels which meant it could no longer generate power. With future plans for humans to visit Mars, dust and the way it behaves on the Martian surface is one of the many factors that must be considered.
Mars rover https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpeg/PIA04413.jpg (NASA)
What can we do about it?
Whether we encounter dust issues on Earth, the Moon or Mars, there are three main strategies to deal with it:
1. Prevent the dust being generated in the first place.
2. Suppress the dust to prevent it spreading.
3. Protect organisms from the dust. This should be the last line of defence if strategies 1 and 2 are not possible.
Dust: Earth & Beyond
Originally designed as a group project to be completed at school (found here), the Dust: Earth & Beyond project has been reorganised to make a series of smaller projects suitable for learning almost anywhere.
This series of smaller projects will hone students STEM skills, asking them first to consider what STEM skills are and what they look like. A PowerPoint presentation has been prepared to help them with this and it can be downloadedhere.
Each of the projects are presented as interactive PDF booklets for students to download and complete on their own devices.
Some projects ask the students to design and conduct surveys of dust in their area or build models of devices to clean solar panels, whilst others involve examining how dust behaves on different surfaces.
The hands-on elements of the projects are supported by a guide with instructions on how to approach the projects and additional interactive PDF booklets to record online research the students conduct.
View and then download the projects by clicking on the links below:
- PALMS5 STEM – Projects Guide – Digital
- PALMS5 STEM – Background Research – Digital
- PALMS5 STEM – Research Guide – Digital
- PALMS5 STEM – Project 1A Dusty Leaves – Digital
- PALMS5 STEM – Project 1B Clean Solar Panels – Digital
- PALMS 5 STEM – Project 1C Rover Design – Digital (Coming Soon)
- PALMS 5 STEM – Project 1D Monitor Dust – Digital (Coming Soon)
- PALMS 5 STEM – Project 1E Dust Behaviour – Digital (Coming Soon)
Dust storm https://www.flickr.com/photos/57768042@N00/240219333 (Photo by Sydney Oats via Flickr)