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Computer Science program at RMC focuses on real-world application of skills for out-of-this-world experiments

BILLINGS, AUGUST 22, 2014 - Buttressed by community outreach and partnerships, the computer science program at RMC focuses on real-world application of skills for out-of-this-world experiments.

The International Space Station lugs its oxygen from the Earth. Rocky Mountain College students are constructing an experiment headed to the ISS that may demonstrate a way to provide oxygen onboard by recycling carbon dioxide through algae growing in agar-filled petri dishes.

RMC students are finalizing the programming, circuitry, materials, and container for the experiment, which they will send to NASA for an autumn launch. While they were local high schoolers also enrolled in RMC computer science classes, some of the students helped to plan this high-school-designed experiment to reach the ISS. In the fall of 2012, the NASA HUNCH [High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware] program selected an experiment originally planned by students of Deb Wines, a science teacher at Billings Central Catholic High School, to fly to the ISS.

Associate Professor of Computer Science Andy Wildenberg got involved in January 2013 when he helped Wines’ students with design of technical measurements for the experiment.

“Students are running the show,” Wildenberg said. “It’s unusual for freshmen to lead a research project, especially considering how interdisciplinary this work is.” Students Kobi Hudson and Tucker Downs are writing computer programs, designing electrical circuits, constructing a physical enclosure [using a 3-D printer at City College of MSU Billings], and constructing the instrument package.

“The project has almost 100 percent turnover from what participants discussed over the summer,” Wildenberg said. RMC took charge of building the algae factories. “We look at what we need to do, and we do it,” he said.

Rocky Mountain College students learn real-world skills and applications to transform not only the world around us, but the universe as well.