Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi's triumphant return to the UAE today (September 18) following his extensive space mission is a powerful inspiration for young individuals. Educators see a surge of interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects among students, attributing this phenomenon to the remarkable space accomplishments in the UAE. Consequently, these achievements are shaping courses in schools and university programmes.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, heads of various institutions across the country said that the academia has a renewed focus on cultivating creative mindsets alongside scientific and engineering disciplines.
"Our students are challenged to look at how we can improve the efficiency of landing space shuttles safely as they look at the sustainability of space exploration," says Neal Oates, Principal, Star International School, Mirdif.
Educators highlight that a greater number of students are now engaged in space rocket projects within the STEM curriculum. These projects focus on teaching them about the forces and aerodynamics associated with rocket launches using simple science experiments.
"Year 5 students can replicate a rocket launch on a smaller scale using a bottle, water, pressure valve, and bicycle pump. They look at the shape of the capsule to improve its aerodynamic performance and attach a Microbit that they have coded to measure the acceleration of the bottle after launch," added Oates.
School heads also shed light on building 'Makerspaces', a zone for creative learning that provides hands-on opportunities for students to design, experiment, build, and invent.
"In a bid to inspire young minds and foster a passion for science, the school has taken an intentional step by incorporating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities into all elementary Makerspace classes. This strategic move involves scheduling these engaging STEM sessions into the regular timetable, ensuring that students are exposed to hands-on experiences that stimulate their curiosity and innovation," explains Justin Kirby, K-12 Director of Curriculum and Instruction, GEMS American Academy, Abu Dhabi.
It's worth noting that throughout a six-month space mission on board the ISS, Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi conducted over 200 advanced research experiments and studies that took about 585 hours in collaboration with ten international space agencies and 25 UAE and global universities.
"Due to the UAE's efforts for space exploration, whether it's the UAE Mars Mission or Sultan AlNeyadi's six-month mission or Hazzaa AlMansoori's pioneering efforts… all these have positively contributed to the introduction of the space programmes at many universities in the UAE, with greater student uptick for these courses," said Prof. Ilias Fernini, Director of Space Sciences Department at the Sharjah Academy for Astronomy, Space Sciences, and Technology at the University of Sharjah.
In 2019, the University of Sharjah initiated an MSc program in astronomy and space sciences. Additionally, they enhanced their educational quality by introducing a wider range of courses and departmental activities.
Furthermore, they expanded their research facilities in the field of space sciences, now encompassing several research laboratories.
He added, "We have the Cube Sat Lab, we have the radio astronomy lab, we have the high-energy Astrophysics lab, we have space weather lab… all of these have been in use because the UAE has taken a deep dive in various space exploration missions."
The Sharjah Academy for Astronomy, Space Sciences, and Technology (SAASST) also launched its first cube satellite in January 2023, with the work on the second one underway.
Similarly, Amity University currently offers a Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering for students to make careers in developing technologies used in aviation, defence, and space exploration.
Dr Fazal Malik, Pro Vice Chancellor at Amity University Dubai, said, "This degree offers access to an advanced high-tech Aerospace lab featuring a Satellite Ground Station where researchers monitor various open resources for remote sensing analysis. We are also working towards launching our satellite to further the UAE's advances in space exploration and develop additional interest amongst the students."
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