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Students from Howard County, Los Angeles and China design 3D experiments and launch them into space

Jeff Feng wants to know if radiation will affect the growth of a grass seed and if it will change the physical characteristics of a plastic bead.

How will he test this? By designing an experiment with a 3D printer and creating something small enough to fit inside a 40-millimeter cube to be launched into outer space.

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Jeff, 15, spent a day at the Universities Space Research Association STEMaction Center in Columbia creating his experiment.

An incoming sophomore at River Hill High School, Jeff is interested in pursuing a career in engineering.

As for now, he’s looking forward to receiving the data from his experiment.

Through the program Cubes in Space, children from Howard County, Los Angeles and China spent last week at the STEMaction Center creating experiments to fit inside a small plastic cube.

Founded by Idoodledu Inc., a Virginia Beach, Va.-based nonprofit that develops teaching projects based on logic and methodology, the program is a collaboration with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility, NASA’s Langley Research Center and the Colorado Space Consortium to send experiments up in space.

A free program, Cubes in Space is for students ages 11 to 18. After spending one to three days at a Cubes in Space program, the experiments are collected and sealed in metal boxes, which can hold 80 cubes each.

The cubes are either sent up in a NASA sounding rocket — ones used for instrument testing and experiments — at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia Beach or a zero-pressure scientific balloon at NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in New Mexico.

Student experiments from the STEMaction Center are heading to New Mexico and will be launched Aug. 19.

“Since 2014, we have launched almost 900 experiments from 73 countries with about 2,000 teachers and over 20,000 students participating,” said Amber Agee-DeHart, founder of Cubes in Space and president of Idoodledu.

The program was established after Idoodledu was approached by ‎Rubik’s Brand Ltd. — the Rubik’s Cube company — to design something in 2014 for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube, according to Agee-DeHart.

Having worked at NASA, Agee-DeHart created the idea of having cubes with experiments launched into space and “from there, the program was born,” she said. After the anniversary year, Agee-DeHart continued the program.

This summer is the first time Cubes in Space has worked with the STEMaction Center, according to Michael Lyden, the STEM program specialist at Universities Space Research Association.

The association intends to bring Cubes in Space back twice every year, Lyden said. The program was held this year in June and July.

Jeff Stephens, 21, a second-year intern with the research association, assisted with the Cubes in Space program.

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A senior at the University of Maryland, Stephens ensured the 3D printers ran smoothly during the programs and assisted the students with creating their experiments.

Stephens has had several jobs focusing on program development with children. Even though he is a kinesiology major, he would like to pursue a business or program development career.

With Cubes in Space, he had the opportunity to communicate “with different groups of children,” some with “language barriers,” and teach them an aspect of STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The STEMaction Center hosts a variety of free workshops and activities year-round for students, including 3D Thursdays, where children can design creations with the 3D printers; Sugo Sundays where children use Lego robots that participate in wrestling matches; and Challenge Mondays, where children create something new each week.

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