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How Your Coffee Bags Can Teach Kids STEAM

How Your Coffee Bags Can Teach Kids STEAM

[themify_box style=”lavender note rounded” ]EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re excited to have John Cranston, Sr. Materials and Process Engineer for Nexolve Corp., as a guest on RCM today. We all know Huntsville is a cool place to live, but projects like this really drive that home. This is the story of the Coffee Bag Sunshield Project, and how your family can get involved in a community effort like no other. [/themify_box]

For the past 7.5 years I have been working with many engineers and scientists to build the Sunshields for the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST. JWST is NASA’s next orbiting observatory and the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. A tennis court-sized telescope orbiting far beyond Earth’s moon, Webb will detect infrared radiation and be capable of seeing in that wavelength as well as Hubble sees in visible light.

History of the Coffee Bag Sunshield

This project started 2.5 years ago when my granddaughter, Emma, a 4th grader, wanted me to talk to her class about my work. You see, Emma had visited me at work a few times over the years and I dressed her up in a lab coat and showed her how I made things for the sunshield. This apparently sparked an interest in science and engineering. I accepted, prepared and delivered the presentation. The children really liked the hands on tensile and peel tests we did with potato chip bags.

When I got back to the office I made a pot of coffee and tore off the corner of the coffee bag and noticed the shiny silver inner bag. This looked just like the materials we were using to build the sunshield. The idea was born, a hands-on project for Emma’s class building a replica sunshield from coffee bags.

coffee bag sun shield

All Those Coffee Bags Today

Now over 2.5 years later the project has grown. The Coffee Bag Sunshield project has grown to a full-scale sunshield, 70 feet by 48 feet replica, to be displayed at the US Space and Rocket Museum Davidson Center, 14 May 2016. Some of our partners are NASA Marshall Space Flight Center STEM, US Space and Rocket Center STEM, Space Telescope Science Institute STEM, NEXOLVE, MANTECH, Northrop Grumman engineers, schools, teachers, friends, family and hundreds of students local and far off. STEM is an acronym that refers to the academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The purpose of STEM like the Coffee Bag Sunshield project is to inspire the next generation through exciting presentations and hands-on projects.

Coffee bag sunshield 2The students are taping together nearly 3,000 coffee bags to complete the full scale Coffee Bag Sunshield. The students are from many different schools and have each been making just small assemblies that will eventually come together to make the full scale coffee bag sunshield, 70’ x 48’. The coffee bags are of two sizes, 1/3 sq. ft. and 3 sq. ft.

When completed the sunshield will be displayed at the USSRC Davidson Center underneath the Saturn V Rocket. Each of the children and adults that helped build the sunshield will be invited for the raising of the sunshield. Contributions are being accepted through the USSRC Foundation to pay for the student’s admission. All donations are tax exempt.

See Also

How You Can Participate

If you believe that inspiring the next generation is important to our nation’s future and your children’s future contact me. There are many ways you can get involved:

  • Free classroom kits for your child’s class
  • Free family-sized kits
  • Hands-on Build Session at your school, homeschool, Scout, or church group, complete with a presentation by me

John Cranston
Phone: 256-971-7016
Email: [email protected].

UPDATE – See the Sunshield in Action!

The Coffee Bag Sun Shield will be displayed at the USSRC, Davidson Center May 14, 2016, 10-12. Families and children that worked on the project are invited to celebrate – free of charge! Please register online to attend with the student’s name/s, number coming and group your student is affiliated. Space is limited, so reserve your student’s spot ASAP.

[themify_box style=”lavender rounded” ]John Cranston ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Cranston has worked in the field of engineering since 1984. He had the privilege of working on the Space Shuttle Program and is currently helping build the James Webb Space Telescope. When he’s not building the next thing to explore space he is inspiring the next generation of scientists , engineers, and entrepreneurs. John has talked to over 30,000 students during his careers, motivating them to work hard and pursue academic and personal excellence. His hope is that one of your children will be the next scientist, engineer, astronomer or NASA administrator leading our nation to even greater discoveries.
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