Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School heads to space

Edison Mayor Tom Lankey recently visited an app design contest at Woodrow Wilson Middle School sponsored and organized by Tata Consultancy Services, which has offices in the township. STAFF VIDEO BY BOB MAKIN

FRANKLIN (Somerset) – Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School (TEECS) students have been given the opportunity to work on various projects that coordinate with NASA’s International Space Program.

One, the Quest for Space program, is NASA project scheduled for an April 2 launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-14 out of Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“We have already sent one project to the International Space Station (ISS), and it stayed there for a month,” TEECS Lead Person Oguz Yildiz said. “The school currently offers two programs — Quest for Space and Orion Quest.”

Accepting students from three area school districts — Franklin, North Brunswick and South Brunswick — TEECS is a tuition-free public school and the first K­-12 school in the state to focus specifically on green/renewable energy.

According to Yildiz, TEECS’ mission is to offer a “safe, secure, structured and stimulating educational environment to develop students’ academic, technical, personal and critical thinking skills necessary to meet the standards that will enable them to succeed in a global economy, predicated on knowledge and innovation.”

Students are encouraged to “continually expand their intellect and use the content knowledge and skills they’ve acquired to participate and responsibly shape the direction of a complex world with ever-increasing climate challenges and energy demand,” Yildiz said.

In the Quest for Space program, students in TEECS CAMP (College Access Mentorship Program) with NASA Club designed an experiment to be launched to the ISS. Under the guidance of teacher William Brinkman, the program is being carried out in collaboration with the Quest Institute for Space, an organization that allows students to design, implement and analyze data from real-life experiments conducted in microgravity, Yildiz said.

“This year, in particular, the focus of the experimental design is on heat transfer in 0-G environments,” Yildiz saids. “Running heat experiments in microgravity to find more efficient ways of dispersing heat on board the ISS not only helps solve current pressing issues but the process of brainstorming, implementing, testing and drawing conclusions can relate to a lifetime of inspiration for making a difference in our world.”

The project involves the students building an apparatus that allows them to test the heat efficiency of different materials in standard G (Earth surface gravity).

“Their hypothesis is that the same experiment conducted in microgravity will yield the same results — that microgravity has no significant effect on radiation (how much energy can be stored in a material vs. how slowly it’s released),” Yildiz said.

According to TEECS CAMP students, this experiment has implications for agriculture in space, as well as for the development of more efficient solar panels to be used as power sources in zero gravity.

Noting this is the second project to with ISS, Yildiz said the school is “incredibly proud of the high school students.”

“We can not wait to watch live the launching of Space X from Florida,” Yildiz said. “The team had to work very hard to get this done in time for the first launch of the year, so all of our hats should go off to them. Students successfully completed the project and sent their findings to Quest Institute to run it in the International Space Station.

“TEECS’ students are looking forward to watch the launch first hand at the mission center. We are thinking of having an earth and science fair at school and invite a former astronaut to assess our projects.”

The second project, Orion Quest: Microbes in Space, is modeled after one done by scientist Dr. Cheryl Nickerson and her team at Arizona State University. TEECS’ Biology students exactly copied the Nickerson investigation exactly but in a classroom environment. According to Yildiz, the Microbes in Space program involves TEECS’ ninth-grade Biology students who participated in Orion Quest Mission.

“Orion’s Quest is an internet-assisted education program that employs current NASA research to reach and inspire ‘the next generation of explorers,'” Yildiz said. “The mission has academic emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) intertwined with the teamwork skills that are a necessary part of everyday life for NASA scientists.”

TEECS’ students, under the direction of Middle and High School Curriculum Supervisor and Biology teacher Maya Ghosh, completed the module called Microbes in Space, also called “Micro-5” by NASA.

Nickerson and her team, who call their experiment “The PHOENIX – Pathogen Host Enteric Interactions Experiment,” were trying to “find out the interaction of Salmonella bacteria on C elegans (roundworms) in a controlled experiment in space,” Yildiz said.

The TEECS students analyzed videos and provided data back to the PHOENIX scientists. According to Nickerson, the “main goal of the PHOENIX is to investigate how to prevent or counteract illness in astronauts and to make applications of this research back on Earth.”

“Also, this research will help learn more about how Salmonella causes disease, which might help in the development of vaccines,” she said. “In addition, it may help prevent infection of bacteria found in food sources.”

In the spring, TEECS’ fourth grade students will conduct another Orion Quest module called “Butterflies in Space.”

On Feb. 28, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker and Rartian Valley Community College President Michael McDonough visited TEECS. They spent time with the students and had a tour of the facility. They observed presentations on a few of the school’s ongoing projects, including Quest for Space, Microbes In Space and the FTC Robotics team.

“We concluded the afternoon with an assembly with our seventh- and eighth-graders,” Yildiz said. “Mr. McDonough spoke to them about our High School Dual Enrollment Program with RVCC and Assemblyman Zwicker spoke to our students about his background in Plasma Physics and the importance of STEM in school. Overall, we had a great visit with both our guests.”

For more information on TEECS’ space-related programming, go to For more information about the Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School, go to

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