Camp Offers Students Chance to Study Space Shuttle Columbia Debris

CNS Y-12's Steve Dekanich holds up a piece of the remains of the space shuttle Columbia during a materials science camp session on Monday.

CNS Y-12’s Steve Dekanich holds up a piece of the remains of the space shuttle Columbia during a materials science camp session on Monday.

An ASM International Materials Camp supported by UT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and scientists at CNS Y-12 National Security Complex is giving local students the chance to study debris from the space shuttle Columbia, with an eye on improving materials used in space flight.

“This is a great opportunity for local kids to get involved with materials science and see how it affects a lot of different disciplines,” said Steve Dekanich, senior metallurgist at CNS Y-12 and the leader of this year’s camp. “People can tend to focus on the really specialized things that materials science studies, but the reality is that it plays a part in many things that people don’t realize, from energy to design.”

Dekanich recalled how he met NASA’s Steve McDanels at a conference in Hawaii, with the two hitting it off immediately.

McDanels, who heads up NASA’s materials science division at Kennedy Space Center, has spent years doing studies and analysis for the agency, including work related to the shuttles, the International Space Station, and various hardware. He offered Dekanich the chance to have his campers study NASA debris for the first time in 2006, with the offer being gladly accepted.

“He’s a big proponent of materials science in general and of this camp specifically,” said Dekanich. “He’s an advocate for science education, something we definitely welcome. It’s good to see an emphasis starting to be made for science-related education once again, particularly for area students.”

Though past years have seen students come from as far away as Washington, this year’s camp will be made up of four teams of students drawn from East Tennessee high schools.

Each team will have one particular part of the shuttle to analyze, with the goal of being able to tell how various reentry forces affected the part as well as how future design changes might mitigate that damage.

In addition to participating in those study sessions, students will see a comprehensive presentation of the Columbia disaster from McDanels, videoconference with recently returned astronaut and UT alumnus Barry Wilmore, and tour the engineering buildings and labs at UT.

“This is another example of how well UT and labs like the ones at CNS Y-12 and Oak Ridge National Laboratory can work together to benefit students and science,” said Dekanich. “Those partnerships are important.”

That partnership between UT and CNS Y-12 is as strong as ever, having been recently renewed at a December ceremony featuring Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek and CNS President and CEO Jim Haynes.

The agreement calls for the two to work together to help collaborate in areas ranging from joint research to analyzing business operations and pushing more technologies into the private sector, all while making the country more secure.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)