Kodiak Students Team with Scientists to Impact Arctic, the World

By Dr. Pam Lloyd, Vice President, GCI Education


What if I told you that a bunch of high school students entered their science project in a university competition and took first place, beating teams from the United States, Europe, and Asia?  What if I told you those kids aren’t from an elite Ivy league prep school, but live in Kodiak, Alaska?  What if I told you they didn’t win just once, but two years in a row?  And what if I told you their science project isn’t merely a school project, but is making a real-world difference in Alaska and that their work is being relied on by NASA, NOAA and used by other scientists around the world?

Sounds like a Hollywood movie, right?  But it’s real. 

Junior Kiae Shin and about 120 of her peers are part of the Kodiak World Bridge project, a partnership between the Kodiak Island Borough School District and project-based education group Trillium Learning. Through the A World Bridge project, Kiae and her fellow students are teaming up with scientists at NASA, NOAA and other organizations to design and implement real-world solutions to current Arctic problems and thereby stimulate interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.

“We are extremely proud of the work our students our doing through the Kodiak World Bridge Project,” said Stewart McDonald, superintendent of Kodiak Island Borough School District. “Our vision for education in the 21st century is a blended approach that leverages technology to connects students with peers, experts and resources from around the world. Learning becomes much more engaging and exciting when students have opportunities like World Bridge.”

One of the World Bridge projects is a real-time Earthquake Signal Precursors system based on the theory that tectonic plates generate electromagnetic signals prior to an earthquake. Students designed and built a system that can pick up on these electromagnetic anomalies and, in theory, forecast seismic activity.

Students entered the project in the NASA World Wind Europa Challenge in 2015 and took first place, beating teams from American and foreign universities. In 2016, they took first place among academic institutions again. 

Over the summer, Kiae interned with NASA and worked remotely on visualizing the data being collected by the forecast system – more than 13 million data points per day.

Ron Fortunato, president of Trillium Learning, said connectivity is crucial when working on joint projects like this.

“We need bandwidth because communication is the key to all of it,” Ron said. “When we have a good coms link, and we can see and share data over long distances, bandwidth becomes a critical factor in being able to collaborate.”

Kiae, who moved to Alaska from Korea two years ago, said having broadband access in Alaska not only keeps her connected to family and friends, but also helps her pursue her passions.

“Ninety-eight percent of my life is on the internet,” Kiae said. “I need it to communicate with other teams in other countries. And I do a lot of online research.”

Kiae and Ron at a windfarm in October 2016 during the Wind Turbine inspection for the Kodiak Electric Association.

Kiae and Ron at a windfarm in October 2016 during the Wind Turbine inspection for the Kodiak Electric Association.

Kiae and her peers are now working on designing small satellites that will be built over the coming months and launched from weather balloons in partnership with NASA, the Kodiak Launch Complex and Alaska Aerospace. The satellites will be used to collect additional electromagnetic signal data as part of the earthquake forecasting project.

The students are also working on the NASA OpenCitySmart global initiative, which challenges “the world’s best and brightest” to find solutions for creating sustainable communities. They are looking for renewable energy solutions and the development of shared energy grids suitable for Arctic conditions. Students are also working on building new types of greenhouse systems that can withstand extremely cold temperatures, technology that could have enormous impact on agriculture in the Arctic.

“We are connecting all of these projects with real-time, real-world problems,” Ron said. “Once the students gain the skills required to produce valid data, organizations like NASA accept and treat them like team members. I think it’s very cool.”

At GCI, we love to see what our customers can do with broadband. This is the first in a series of posts that highlight some of the amazing things happening in Alaska. We hope you find it as inspiring as we do.