Student-designed solar system park gets funding commitment

A solar system learning park designed by a group of Mines students could soon come to life in Denver’s Northeast Park Hill neighborhood.
 
The students of Team Naztek designed the scaled solar system – with an interactive sundial representing the sun and fiberglass planets placed to scale to represent their true distances in the solar system – for their Capstone Design project. They met with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Councilman Christopher Herndon, who represents the neighborhood, and other city officials Dec. 18 to present the final design. 
 
The Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA), which served as the client for the senior design team, has pledged funding for the project to move forward and is in talks with Denver Parks and Recreation on how to proceed, redevelopment specialist Victor Caesar said.
 
“We’re hoping to see it implemented sometime soon,” said Emily Quaranta, a December graduate in mechanical engineering and the team’s communication lead. “A lot of senior design projects are just that – projects. If we have the opportunity to actually have it come to fruition, it would be unbelievable.” 
 
DURA tasked the students with creating an active learning module that would stimulate curiosity and interest in STEM among kids ages 6-12 from low-income backgrounds living in Denver’s Northeast Park Hill neighborhood. The team came up with several different ideas – a radial swing to emphasize physics concepts and a math canopy among them – before deciding on the solar system park.
 
All eight planets – sorry, Pluto – are represented in the module. Both the sizes of the planets and the spacing between them are to scale, although different scales. Each foot of planet diameter represents 7,900 miles while every foot of space between planets correlates to 10 million miles. The smaller planets closer to the sun are mounted on poles, while the larger planets are hemispheres on the ground. 
 
Educational plaques create a scavenger hunt around the solar system, challenging park visitors to find the planet with a wrinkled surface, the planet with the tallest mountain and more. Other plaques explain how old a 10-year-old Earthling would be on Venus or Jupiter or how much a 100-pound person would weigh on Mars or Saturn. 
 
“We talked to several experts in STEM and they emphasized making it interactive but also relatable,” Quaranta said. “Instead of saying how many pounds you’d weigh on a planet, we compared it to a wallaby or a tiger.”
 
The team also met with community members – including neighborhood children at the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver – to gather input and get them interested in the project. Rounding out the team were Nolan Sneed, Alex Sauer, Zachary Waanders, Thomas Ladd and Kristen Smith.
 
“It’s been found that in lower-income neighborhoods, a lot of kids aren’t going into STEM,” Quaranta said. “That’s a problem.”
 
CONTACT
Emilie Rusch, Public Information Specialist, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3361 | erusch@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu