If you’re having one of those "I haven’t accomplished anything with my life" kind of day, then move away from this article now because you are going to feel worse. A seventeen-year-old schoolboy from the UK has had to email NASA after spotting a problem on their space station. The largest space station in the world was wrong and could only say "thank you."
17-year-old Miles Soloman spoke to the BBC about finding a problem with one of the radiation sensors found on the International Space Station (ISS). Soloman, together with his classmates and teacher, were participating in the TimPix Project. They had been given excel spreadsheets for them to analyze real data from the scientific world.
The project, which led to Soloman’s detection, found its way in Soloman’s school thanks to the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS). The latter is a UK-based charity that gives students the chance to do scientific research based on real data. Organizations such as Wellcome Trust, CERN and NASA have all partnered with IRIS to bring current scientific projects to students to get them more interested in a scientific career.
Thanks to IRIS and the willing participation of huge scientific institutions, students are now being exposed to real life scientific projects. “We're also tapping into the potential of young minds and what they can do," said Soloman's teacher James O'Neill. From what Soloman has done, it seems that IRIS has done well in getting at least one student on the side of science.
5. Tim Peake’s Research Data Shared With The Students At Tapton School
The Excel sheets that Soloman and the rest of the Tapton’s students had consisted of the research first started by British astronaut Tim Peake during his work on the station in 2015 and 2016. The research was a study on the effect of space radiation on human beings. Timpix detectors are used on the ISS to monitor the radiation there, ones that send data back to Earth.
Going through the excel sheets, Soloman looked at the figures of the data from the radiation sensors. It is here that he noticed something was off with the figures, as they were recording negative energy values — in non-scientific terms, this wasn’t good and it shouldn’t have happened. The student could only conclude that the sensors must have a problem of some kind, so naturally, NASA had to be contacted.
“I noticed that where we should have had no energy, so there was no radiation for that four seconds [how often readings are taken], it was actually showing minus one,” the schoolboy told the BBC. “And the first thing I thought there is, well you can’t have negative energy. And then we realized that this was an error.”
Not everyone will think to email NASA, or any other established institution for that matter, even if we think we’re right. Soloman did, however, with a little nudge from his physics teacher. “It’s pretty cool,” Soloman said, “You can tell your friends, I just emailed NASA and they're looking at the graphs that I've made.”
It seems the people at NASA already knew about the problem but they thought it was happening once, maximum twice a year. Soloman, however, realized it was happening more often than that, making his discovery even more legit. It is here that the scientists learned that a dismissed problem caused by the algorithm was something more than that.
Working on the radiation monitors, Professor Larry Pinsky explained how Soloman’s correction was “appreciated more so than it being embarrassing.” “The problem is that some of the algorithms which converted the raw data were slightly off, and therefore when they did the conversion, they wound up with a negative number.” Lawrence Pinsky, a physicist also working on the TimPix project said that “they thought they had corrected for this” negative value, but Soloman showed them they had not.
11. The Value Of Students’ Involvement In Real Scientific Projects
Not only was Soloman’s detection most appreciated but it was a great example of what IRIS is doing for students. Talking to BBC World, Pinsky dismissed the incident as embarrassing. The professor added how, “the idea that students get involved at a real level means that there's an opportunity for them to find things like this.”
Despite the internet fame and his clear win, Soloman has spoken like a true pro about the incident. Probably because he wants to present a good face for when his future self decides to apply to work at the space station. “I’m not trying to prove NASA wrong, I'm not trying to say I'm better, because obviously I'm not — they're NASA,” he said. “I want to work with them and learn from them.”