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Huntington Beach Union High School District

Westminster High School MERITS Students Soar into NASA’s TechRise Challenge

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. - While most high school students spend their time juggling academics, athletics, and school-sponsored extracurriculars, a group of Westminster High School (WHS) students in MERITS are adding an outside project with NASA TechRise Student Challenge to their to-do list this spring.

MERITS is a specialized honors program at WHS that integrates math, science, and technology. Students experience a rigorous and focused curriculum that prepares them for highly technical fields of employment and encourages them to pursue higher education.

When the Future Engineers NASA TechRise Student Challenge was accepting proposals from sixth to 12th-grade students for science or technology experiments, WHS MERITS student Ryan Dam saw this as an incredible opportunity for him and his classmates to test out their knowledge and skills they have obtained from MERITS courses. MERITS teacher Huy Pham saw the potential in this group of students and helped them submit their proposal, leading them to compete in the challenge.

As one of the 60 winning TechRise teams in the nation, WHS students will fly a payload on a Rocket Powered Lander flight as part of NASA’s TechRise Student Challenge. Their experiment, named Astro26 Ryan’s Rangers, will fly for approximately two minutes at an altitude of 80 feet over a test field designed to look like the Moon’s surface. Beginning in early February, the students have been curating their experiment, testing out algorithms, and engineering electronic components, light sensors, and infrared technology, which will all be assembled into a 4” x 4” x 8” payload container to test how moon dust affects LiDAR imaging.

The students of Astro26 Ryan’s Rangers are Ryan Dam, Tina Do, Donna Huynh, Kailani Lozada, Maryan Nguyen, Jacquelyn Phan, Luis Truong, and Minh Truong. This diverse group ranges in age from freshmen to seniors, and they each play a vital role in ensuring the success and completion of the challenge.

“I saw NASA TechRise as a way to innovate potentially new and creative solutions in improving space exploration,” explained Ryan Dam. “As a team, we applied the fields of science, engineering, and coding in addition to statistical analyses and data processing to optimize our findings and experiment. This project has allowed everyone in our team to further their knowledge and techniques, and has fostered a team of all grade levels aiming to work together to find solutions.”

Huy Pham added, “Many students dream of working for NASA when they grow up. But why wait then when they can do a NASA related project now? As excited as the kids were to find out they get to work on their own NASA inspired project, the bonus prize is that they get to be mentored by engineers, learn from experts, and get to practice the skills and knowledge from class in a real-world project.”

Astro26 Ryan’s Rangers are preparing to ship their finalized experiment to NASA for the final test in the TechRise Challenge. The experiment will be performed over the summer and the students will receive their results in the fall to analyze.

group of students ready to work on their project

three students huddled together looking at constructing their project

two girls attaching pieces of the project together