“Yes, Put This in My Backyard!” Generating Power with Recycled Water

by Brooke Mitchell, Chase Johnson, Chase Caldwell, and Chris Lynn

One of the major issues Americans deal with is conservation of energy and creating new and improved technology to make everyday life easier and less expensive. One method of achieving cheaper and easier energy production is the use of recycled household gray water to turn a hydroelectric turbine. Our idea for this design is to collect gray water from households and run that water through turbines that will create hydroelectricity that in turn powers the house.  Hydroelectric power has been practiced in the past, improved today, and hopefully, will be fully utilized in the future.

There are many types of technology the world uses today to generate energy. One source that I believe we need to utilize more is hydroelectricity. Currently power derived from hydroelectricity represents 24% of total electricity production in the world and 12% in the United States. Hydroelectricity works by harnessing the energy of flowing water. Water is pulled downstream, and then it meets and turns the blades of a hydroelectric turbine. The turbine shaft turns the rotor in the generator and creates electricity the same way other electrical generators do. While large hydroelectric plants that are part of a large dam structures are common, there are others hydroelectric plants that use straight river flow and do not involve dams. Other models that are micro-generators use ordinary streams to generate power.

Some of the benefits of hydroelectricity are: hydroelectricity is a clean, renewable source of energy; there is no fuel, because kinetic energy is converted into electricity by flowing water and no pollution. Hydroelectric sources currently provide roughly 1/5 of the world’s energy. Today there is not a whole lot of use for the gray water in houses, so why not put it to use?

We have designed a fantastic idea to conserve electricity in households and convert that energy into hydroelectric power. The purpose of our design is to develop hydroelectric power into a main source of electricity. By doing so, we will decrease the cost of our electric bill and will conserve large amounts of energy in the vicinity of our own household. To begin, any gray water that runs through household drains, such as water from the sink, dishwasher, washer machine, and showers, will be sent to a turbine located below the house. That turbine is then powered by the moving water that runs through the drains, and in turn, turns a generator that creates hydroelectric power. This power then flows through our house, sending electricity to our light bulbs and throughout our houses. Since the water is constantly circulating through the house and not automatically sent through a sewer system, we also have the advantage of conserving water and energy.

With power plants decreasing and hydroelectric power turbine plants increasing, our economy will develop into an efficient state which will help our economy grow out of depression. Understanding the impact of compact hydroelectric power plants beneath our households, perhaps people will take a step forward in giving a helping hand in conserving energy and making our world a healthier place to live in the future.

Sources and Photo Credits:

International Hydro Power Association. Hydro Power and the World’s Energy  Future. Ed. Canadian Hydropower Association. N.p., Nov. 2000. Web. 9 Jan. 2012. <http://www.ieahydro.org/reports/Hydrofut.pdf&gt;.

“Divided Over Dams.” The American Experience, PBS, Katya Chistik, Project Coordinator, Green Energy Ohio. Ron Feltenberger, formerly Vice President and Hydro System Designer, Universal Electric Power.

“Hydroelectric Power History.” Fuel From the Water. Bechtel BWXT, 25 Aug. 2003. Web. 9 Jan. 2012.

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Students Propose Using Body Heat to Power Gaming Systems

by Michael Reece, Erin Motes, Kelsey Lewis, and Nick Meadows

Do you ever get tired of replacing batteries in your game controller?  Well, we do, so we came up with the idea to eliminate those batteries! Harnessing heat energy from the body and transferring it into a thermoelectric generator that powers a video game controller is our proposed innovation. The process requires a normal Xbox 360 controller and thermoelectric generators. The generator would be placed on the insides of handles of the controller and these handles are covered by metal plates. The process would work when someone is playing a game and their body naturally produces heat. The body heat would elevate the metal plates’ temperature and channel that heat to the generators themselves. Each handle will have one generator in it because additional generators would require way to much heat, and the available space inside the controller is limited. In order to reduce the space used, the generators will lie beneath the metal plates which will conduct the heat directly from the palms of the hand into the generators.  The generators would take in the body heat and transform it into electricity that will recharge the battery and make the controller run. The heat would be taken in on the hot side and depart on the cold side.

There has to be enough heat intake because during the process the heat will be used in other areas so the efficiency will be low; therefore, our conductor plates will have to be strong. To make sure that the control stays at normal temperature, the controller’s triggers would have spacing that would allow the generators to push the built-up air through an exhaust thus expelling the excess heat from the controller. This process is a continuous cycle which will precede recharging batteries over time.

The design by itself is going to cause the industry for these generators to sky rocket because all that is needed is one breakthrough for heat energy, and it will be the next air turbine which is now found in virtually anything. The controller is an inexpensive invention because these generators have already been produced at small levels; all that is needed is to implement them into a controller. The equations that go into this are the efficiency level which is limited by the Carnot Cycle, hot side minus cold side. With this all being said, the invention really is quiet simple; it possesses traits that exist today: Xbox controllers and thermoelectric generators.


Autopsy. Digital image. HowStuffWorks. 2003. Web. 11 Jan. 2012.
Devaney, Eric. “Advantage & Disadvantages of a Thermoelectric Generator.” EHow. 27 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

Hodes, Marc. A Load-Following Thermoelectric Generator. Tech. Tufts University. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

“HowStuffWorks Autopsy:Inside an Xbox 360 Controller.” 2003. Web. 11 Jan. 2012.

Ismail, Basel. Thermoelectric Power Generation Using Waste-Heat Energy. Tech. 24 Nov. 2008. Web. 9 Jan. 2012.

Snyder, G. Thermoelectric Efficiency and Compatibility. Tech. no. 14. 2 Oct. 2003. Web. 2012.

Snyder, Jeffrey. Small Thermoelectric Generator. Tech. The Electrochemical Society Interface, Fall 2008. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

Thomas, Rani. “Everything I Need To Know About Thermoelectric Generator.” EcoFriend. 18 June 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

Wustenhagen, Volker. “The Promises and Problems of Thermoelectric Generators.” Advanced Nanotechnology. Web. 2012.

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Using Backyard Astronomy to Verify Kepler’s Laws

by Patrick James and Nolan Williams

Kepler’s first law implies that the Moon’s orbit is an ellipse with the Earth at one of the foci. By observing the moon over a month’s time we can plot its orbit and then use this data to analyze the shape of the orbit. We used a Vixen astronomical telescope equipped with a Meade MA 12mm illuminated reticle to observe the moon each day of its orbit to prove that the moon follows Kepler’s First Law. The location where we made measurements and observations of the moon was from a residential driveway because of the clear visibility of the night sky and the convenience of the location.

In order to gather data, we first had to locate the moon in the sky with the telescope. Once located, we used the focus of the telescope to make sure the image of the moon was clear. Then we positioned the scale of the reticle over the widest point of the moon and took the measurement of the moon’s diameter. We repeated this process two more times, thus yielding three independent measurements for each night. Next, we averaged the three in order to give a more accurate measurement for the night.

On the first night of making observations, the moon was at apogee and was in the western sky. Using the reticle, we measured its apparent diameter to be about 51 mm. Over the next several days, the moon’s diameter increased slowly from about 51mm to 53mm. The moon’s orientation in the night sky changed from the West to the South. After a week of being unable to take measurements during spring break, we found the moon’s diameter had increased from 53mm to 58mm. The moon was still in the southern sky at night, but a few days later it was only visible in the morning.

On April 4, 2012, the moon reached perigee. and its diameter was about 59mm and it was sitting in the southwestern sky. After another few days, the moon’s diameter slowly decreased from 59mm to 57mm. Unfortunately, there was a period of time where the moon wasn’t visible due to the weather; however, this did not skew the data. On the last day of observations (April 25, 2012), the moon was at apogee and its diameter was once again 51mm, but was in the eastern sky instead of the western sky.

From the observations, we could see that the moon’s apparent diameter changed from a minimum of 51mm to a maximum of 59mm (and then back to 51mm). We plugged the data into an observation spreadsheet, which would take the diameter measured on the reticle and convert it to the actual diameter of the moon based on the focal length of the telescope. The spreadsheet then converted the diameter into the position coordinates of the moon and then graphed these coordinates. This gave us a plot of the orbit of the moon. I was then able to fit an ellipse to the plot of orbit of the moon and show that the orbit is elliptical.

After a month of observing, we were able to successfully prove Kepler’s First Law. The best fit line to the plot of the orbit was an ellipse, thus showing that planetary orbits are not circular, but elliptical as Johannes Kepler stated hundreds of years ago (amazing!). Although we were successful in our task, there are various possible sources of error. One of the sources of error could be human error. The measurements we took were all taken by looking at a scale imposed on the moon by very inexperienced observers. This could have resulted in some inaccurate measurements, but by using multiple measurements by multiple people each night, this error was hopefully reduced. Also, there were several days throughout the month where it was impossible to collect data due to bad weather. This could have affected the plot of the orbit; however, because we only missed a few days of observing, we can assume the error to be negligible. Overall, this was an awesome experience, it was amazing to be able to analyze and observe such huge objects and forces in motion!

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Friendship Provides Inspiration for Noninvasive Glucose Tester

One of the authors testing her blood sugar.

by Melissa Bishop, Sarah Dew, Amy Evans,
and Katie Jacoby

One of the authors of this article was diagnosed with type 1 or juvenile diabetes recently. She despises having to test her blood glucose constantly, so we decided to research diabetes, understand its causes and treatments, and come up with a way to to address this problem.  Here are our results.

Glucose testing technology has come a long way since diabetes was first discovered. Current blood glucose testing technology uses a small needle called a lancet to prick the finger and test the blood glucose. Although the technology has come a long way, it is still invasive, requiring a small sample of blood to go into a blood glucose meter. This glucose meter is the most accurate current technology; and it is required to be accurate within twenty percent of a laboratory standard. Testing blood glucose levels can be very inconvenient, and many people do not test as much as they should because of this inconvenience. There are also continuous glucose monitors, which are small devices with a needle placed under the skin, designed to test interstitial fluid. These work well to a point, but they can be inaccurate, and they still require a blood glucose test before any corrective action is taken.

The accuracy of many blood glucose monitors is being challenged by the Food and Drug Administration. They believe that they should be more accurate, since there are over 18 million people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the United States who must use these for diagnostic purposes. Individuals living with diabetes are susceptible to seizures, comas, becoming unconscious and even death if this number is not correct. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, so improving glucose testing could help reduce the number of diabetes-related deaths (Harris).

Currently, researchers are finding many alternative ways to test blood glucose, like testing it with tears. The level of glucose in tears is very close to the level of glucose in blood, which is why tears are sweet. The only problem with using tears is that glucose levels rise tremendously in your tears when you are angry, which can give false readings. Another alternative is using glow in dark tattoos applied to the patient. The tattoo does not show up unless a special light is shone onto it. The light causes the tattoo to change color, and an LED screen on the light displays the exact glucose reading. These technologies have potential to be very convenient, but they are still in the very beginning stages of development and it will take years for them to become available to the masses, if they ever are (Davis).

Photo credit: Tidy, Christopher, Glucose Meters. Digital Image. Wikipedia. 6 Mar. 2006. Web. 12 Jan.


Glucose monitors are needed for individuals that have the metabolic disease diabetes. Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in the bloodstream is too high, and the person’s body either does not make enough insulin or has cells that do not correctly respond to the type of insulin made in the pancreas. The glucose will build up and eventually go out of the body as urine, but the cells in the body aren’t getting the amount of glucose needed for energy and growth requirements (Nordqvist).

There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational. A person with type 1 produces no insulin at all. A person with type 2 doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin he or she does produce is not working properly. Gestational diabetes is developed just while a woman is pregnant. Type 1 and type 2 are chronic medical conditions, whereas gestational usually ends right after the birth of the child (Nordqvist).

Every type of diabetes is treatable but not curable, yet. Patients with type 1 receive daily insulin, which was discovered in 1921. Patients with type 2 only receive insulin when needed because it is usually treatable with tablets, exercise, and a special diet. People who have diabetes use a glucose meter to measure the amount of glucose in their blood (Nordqvist). Glucose meters have only been around for about 40 years. The earliest meter was used in American hospitals and was called The Ames Reflectance Meter. It was ten inches long and needed to be plugged into an outlet. The first two meters that were actually in-home meters were the Glucometer and the Accucheck meter. There were also test strips that changed color according to the patient’s glucose level, but they lost popularity and are no longer sold (Glucose Meter). Now we have glucose meters that are small and inexpensive; patients can carry them around anywhere. They have to prick their finger and put a small amount of blood on a test strip that is in the glucose meter. The meter then calculates the amount of glucose in the blood and shows it on the screen. This technology has come a long way since color coded strips. It also makes taking blood more discrete and not as embarrassing in public; however, this procedure does leave little marks on the patients’ fingers or wherever they take their blood. It would be a great leap forward if scientists could come up with a meter that does not cause patients to prick their finger.

Future Technology

Glucose testing technology is slowly expanding. The type 2 diabetes rate in the United States is rapidly increasing in correlation with the growing obesity rate; therefore, until a cure for diabetes is discovered, there will be a constant need for a device to measure blood glucose levels. While there are different varieties available on the market, almost all of them involve a finger prick from a needle. Our goal is to create a painless alternative using infrared technology rather than a needle to detect blood sugar levels.

Our proposed design: both fashionable and functional.

Our proposed device will be in the form of a bracelet. People with diabetes are advised to wear medical alert bracelets in case of an emergency in which they would be unable to communicate their health condition to medical personnel. Since these patients already have to wear a bracelet, the bracelet monitor would not be anything extra for them to wear. It will look like a typical medical alert bracelet, except with a clock (making it a watch, as well), a tiny meter, and a charm attached via a wire on an ultra sleek band, giving it both medical and fashion purposes. Hanging off of the meter is the charm that functions as a measuring device with an infrared light. The charm clips to the finger to obtain a reading via infrared technology. There will be a button located on the side of the clock that can be pressed to run a test. When the button is pressed, the infrared light will penetrate through the skin into the blood, and the waves emitted back will signal the glucose level. The face will then change to a display screen, and the blood glucose level will be shown. This device is perfect for those who do not like to be obvious when drawing their blood; it’s very discreet. Also, it should please anybody with a low pain tolerance because it is completely pain free.

One might be surprised that this kind of a product isn’t available on the market right now. Improving glucose testing technology has been on the agendas of many major glucose technology companies for a while now, but it takes a lot of time to test the technology, and many improvements have to be made along the way. This makes the production process extremely lengthy. A device like ours really could change the lives of diabetics.


Research in the treatment of diabetes has come a long way in the past decades.  Recent studies on the use of near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor glucose levels have shown some hopeful results.  This is good news for the possibility of our design, but there are still many breakthroughs that need to be made in order to ensure the success of it.  Scientists still have more work if we ever want to eliminate invasive glucose monitors.

Blood glucose monitors still need blood to calibrate.  In order for our design to limit inconvenience, time between calibrations must be increased.  Two of the many companies researching noninvasive blood glucose monitors with infrared include Glucolight Corp. and OrSense Ltd.  OrSense’s model lasts only 12 hours without calibration. Glucolight’s model can last for about four days between calibrations (DeNoon).  The goal of our design is to minimize the use of blood for monitoring.  To make this design more convenient for the user, the time between calibrations must be as high as possible.

Another aspect of our design that will need to be developed is the size of the monitor itself.  Our design is a bracelet that not only makes a fashion statement and alerts medical personnel of the wearer’s condition, but also functions as a watch and monitor.  Current monitoring devices that use infrared are large and bulky, which is highly inconvenient for the user.  Glucolight’s device, for example, is attached to a monitor that is too large to carry (DeNoon).  The size of the monitor and infrared light must be minimized to fit inside of a watch or bracelet so it can be easily carried around at all times with the patient and be used discreetly to test his or her blood sugar levels.

The most important breakthrough that must be made is an increase in the accuracy of the readings made with the infrared light.  Our design uses infrared light shone through the skin to monitor blood glucose.  Recent studies at MIT’s Spectroscopy Lab show that the IR light works, but it can only go half a millimeter under the skin; it is really reading levels in the fluid surrounding the skin and not the glucose in the blood stream (Dillow).  However, the researchers were able to create an algorithm that can help monitors distinguish between the levels in skin and the levels in the blood stream (Dillow).  Despite this solution, there are still problems to work out with the accuracy.  Blood glucose increases rapidly right after eating, but the fluids found in the skin take longer to catch up to the blood stream’s glucose level (Dillow).  Luckily, researchers came up with a process called “Dynamic Concentration Correction,” or “DCC,” that increased the accuracy on average by 15% and in some cases 30% (Dillow).  The increase in the accuracy in this study is a good sign, but the rate must be higher to ensure the safety of the patients.  Further research and testing must be done to increase the accuracy rate.

The road to a noninvasive way of testing blood glucose is a long one that has been frustrating scientists and patients alike for years; however, current studies look promising, and we are moving closer to noninvasive glucose monitoring technology.  If these small problems can be resolved, our design can become a possibility.

The goals of our design are to change how people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar level by eliminating the painful process of finger pricking and to make testing easier and more convenient for the user.  It may take many years for scientists to work out some of the problems, but hopefully in the future we will be able to end the pain of invasive blood glucose monitors and change how those with diabetes monitor their blood sugar levels forever.


Amato, Ivan. “Race quickens for non-stick blood monitoring technology.” Science 258.5084 (1992): 892+. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 2 Dec. 2011

Davis, Jeanie L. “New Glucose Meter Technology.” WebMD Diabetes Center: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Tests, and Treatments. WebMD, LLC, 20 June 2005. Web. 09 Jan. 2012.

DeNoon, Daniel J. “No-Prick Blood Sugar Tests Unveiled.” WebMD Diabetes Center: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Tests, and Treatments. WebMD, Inc., 25 June 2007. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

Dillow, Clay. “MIT’s New Glucose Meter Checks Blood Sugar Levels With Painless Infrared Light.” Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation, 11 Aug. 2010. Web. 4 Jan. 2012.

“Glucose Meter.” Diabetes Daily. Diabetes Daily, LLC., 10 Apr. 2008. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

Nordqvist, Christian. “All About Diabetes.” Medical News Today: Health News. MediLexicon International Ltd. Web. 09 Jan. 2012.

Mendosa, David. “Blood Glucose Meters.” David Mendosa: A Writer About Diabetes. American Diabetes Association, 15 Nov. 1999. Web. 13 Jan. 2012

Channels on Martian Surface Still a Mystery

by Sequoyah High School 2012 1st period honors physics students (students are listed by name at the end of the article).

Since humans first looked up and pondered the heavens, mankind has contemplated the possibility of life beyond Earth. From Kepler’s 1634 science fiction account of travelling to the moon in his book The Dream to H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and even popular blockbusters such as Mars Attacks and Men in Black, man’s fascination with space and the possibility of the life-forms that dwell there is well documented. NASA’s Odyssey Program now allows humankind to search beyond the limits of Earth’s atmosphere and beyond Earth’s moon to discover a planet that exhibits similarities with Earth.  One of those similarities is the presence of water, “a necessary condition for the emergence of life” (NASA Astrobiology Institute, 2007).  Since water is a necessary condition for life, the Sequoyah High School Honors Physics students sought to obtain evidence to determine the presence of water on the Martian surface. The research question was, “Among channels existing on the surface of Mars, how prevalent are those exhibiting evidence of origins in fluvial systems rather than volcanic flow?”

Channels provide evidence of flowing liquid which could possibly have been water, and the existence of water indicates that certain life-forms could be possible. Also, the presence of water on Mars provides a similarity with Earth and allows researchers to better understand the relationship between the history of Mars and the future of Earth. The hypothesis for this research is, Images of channels on the Martian surface and the examination of characteristics of those channels will indicate that some were created by water flow.


Mars is a frozen desert, filled with dry dust, and apparently void of life, so it is surprising that Mars and Earth share some common characteristics.  Mars is very similar to Earth in that it has an atmosphere, albeit much less dense than Earth’s, and this atmosphere produces clouds and wind (Miles and Peters, 2008).  Also, Mars and Earth possess polar ice caps; however, the NASA probe Mariner 7 revealed that the Martian ice caps are carbon dioxide (dry ice) instead of water (Watt, 2002, pg. 6).  NASA researchers postulate that water ice is buried below the dry ice but efforts to prove this point have not been successful (Watt, 2002, pg. 15).  Recent evidence does support that flowing water did exist on Mars sometime during its history, and water in the form of ice may still exist today (Arizona State University Mars Space Flight Facility, n.d.).

Characteristics of Mars’ surface that would indicate past or present existence of water are “small islands, secondary channels that branch off and rejoin the main one and eroded bars on the insides of the curves of the channels” (Zubritsky, 2010). The history of the channels is still unclear, but the widely held belief is that water carved some of the channels present on Mars’ surface. Additionally, studies suggest that lava systems could potentially form the same channels. Scientists, under a team lead by Jacob Bleacher, examined lava flows on Earth and determined that those flows could also produce terraced walls; however, the team said their findings did not rule out the possibility for the existence of water on the surface (Zubritsky, 2010).

Indeed, chemical analysis goes against Bleacher’s hypothesis on the history of the channels on Mars. When the Phoenix Mars Lander arrived on Mars, it was able to collect samples of soil to analyze before the lander stopped working. Mars’ atmosphere is thinner than Earth’s, so carbon is lost to space. Scientists would expect that the atmosphere of Mars would be heavily depleted of Carbon-12 and made primarily of heavier Carbon-13; however, the analysis done by the Phoenix showed large amounts of Carbon-12, suggesting the carbon was replenished recently. An even more surprising finding was the presence of oxygen isotopes in the Martian atmosphere. Scientists cite the presence of oxygen as evidence of liquid water on Mars in recent history because the carbon dioxide reacted with oxygen (Webster & Jeffs, 2010).

Certain images of Mars indicate that water or other liquids once flowed on the surface of Mars creating channels and gullies.  The channels are characterized by a branching pattern, referred to as a dendritic pattern, associated with water flowing.  These channel systems have been found in the Echus and Melas Chasma regions of Mars. Scientists also speculate that snow or rainfall could have contributed to the flowing water (Arizona State University Mars Space Flight Facility, n.d.). The fact that these channels form meandering patterns in much the same fashion as water channels found on Earth suggests that similar factors are causing these channels to form on both planets. Meandering fluvial systems on Earth are often the result of vegetation creating a trap for sediment to discourage erosion which in turn causes the channels to snake throughout the landscape. Although Mars lacks this type of vegetation, scientists believe that the clay sediment found on Mars, in addition to microbial crusts found on the surface, provides the same cohesion required to prevent erosion and make the channels curve. With this evidence in mind, the theory that water once flowed through the channels is still sound even without the specific circumstances outlined by the water systems on Earth. Scientists speculate that “large meteor impact or volcanic eruption” could have “melted ice and created a wet micro-climate for a short period of time in the recent past” (Schirber, 2009). The occurrence of large impact craters could have contributed to flooding that resulted in the channel formation seen on Mars today. “The force of the impact melted the permafrost . . . . and caused the resulting water to flow violently away from the crater” (Watt, 2002, pg. 17-18).

When evaluating images of channels, one must discern the differences between channels formed by lava flow and those formed by the flow of water.  Also, certain characteristics of channels resulting from water flow give clues to the amount of water present.  The channel walls, floors, and tributaries may be analyzed to determine water volume (Watt, 2002, pg. 18).

Figure 1, THEMIS Image No. V11030007 provides insight into the differences between channels formed by lava flow and those formed by water.  This figure is a THEMIS image of a section of the channel system Hebrus Vallis. The perpendicular flow of channels apparent in this image is not associated with fluvial systems and is more indicative of a channel system formed by flowing lava.  Indeed, Hebrus Vallis originates close to the base of the Elysium volcanic complex and was likely formed by volcanic activity (Christensen, 2004, Image No. V11030007). Lava channels are also characterized by rafting where hard pieces of crust harden and create a damming effect, thus causing the lava to sharply change its flowing pattern and in many cases create perpendicular channels (Swann, 2012), and generally, multiple lava flows occur in one image (Mars Student Imaging Program, 2007).

A channel indicating water flow is provided in Figure 2, THEMIS Image No. V03701003, a section of the Minio Vallis Channel (Christensen, 2004, Image No.  V03701003). Channels formed by water flow exhibit a meandering shape. Typically, these patterns are formed by water flow responding to resistance to erosion on the surface, whereas lava simply cuts through and branches off abruptly. Conversely, water creates main channels that have secondary channels branching off and rejoining the main one.


Data was collected via the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a camera onboard Mars Odyssey, capable of producing images with both visible and infrared light.  Utilizing visible imaging, the instrument is capable of “20-meter resolution measurements of the surface,” and infrared data may be used to enhance the visual images (Watt, 2002, pg. 42). The image data was collected via real-time streaming from the current orbital location of Mars Odyssey.  Two images were received from the THEMIS camera; however, only one of the images was able to be analyzed due to dust distortion of the other picture.

The research focused on the presence of channels and specifically whether those channels were formed by lava or water flow. Specific criteria were applied to determine the cause of formation of the channels in the image collected and surrounding area. These criteria were:

Features indicating past water flow

Primary Criteria

  • Dendritic Patterns
  • Meandering patterns in much the same fashion as water channels found on Earth
  • Smooth transitions from channel bed to surrounding area

Secondary Criteria

  • Secondary channels that branch off and rejoin the main one
  • Streamlined islands

Features indicating past lava flow

Primary Criteria

  • Lava flows 90o perpendicular out of the channels
  • Multiple lava flows in one image.
  • Abrupt bump in the transition from channel bed to surrounding area

Secondary criteria

  • Abrupt changes in channel direction

The transition from channel bed to surrounding area was surmised using JMARS to develop elevation views of the identified channels. An example of a smooth transition indicative of a water channel is provided to the left as a standard for comparison.  This graph was developed using the JMARS MOLA 128ppd Elevation feature for a channel occurring at 337.75E, 8.625 N. Likewise, the figure below, developed using the same feature illustrates a typical transition for a lava channel.

Our target image was qualitatively analyzed and significant features such as the characteristics of the channels that support its formation by water or lava were labeled on the image (See THEMIS target image in Data). The area surrounding the target image was analyzed qualitatively in a similar fashion and MOLA elevation views were generated to evaluate the channel bed transitions. The JMARS images and MOLA elevation views are provided in the Data section. The information and data collected were organized according to the following table:

Image   ID No.

Lat.   (N)

Long.   (E)

Channels   (Y/N)

Specific   observations of feature

Formed   by Lava or Water?



We collected 2 THEMIS images but were only able to use one of them due to dust distortion of one of the images. The location of the Martian surface depicted in the THEMIS target image is shown on the following Google Mars image (Google Mars, 2012):

The observations resulting from the qualitative analysis are labeled on the THEMIS image shown on the right.

The table below the image delineates the features that were observed in the surrounding areas of our target image of Martian surface.

      Table 1: Observations
Image ID No. Lat. (N) Long. (E) Channels (Y/N) Specific observations of feature Formed by lava or water?
V46057015 18.662 184.154 Y Streamlined islands,
Meandering patterns
JMARS 11.375 181.25 Y Streamlined islands,
Meandering patterns,
1 perpendicular channel
Indeterminate.First two observations indicate water;
3rd indicates lava.
JMARS 18.125 185 Y Streamlined islands,
Meandering patterns
JMARS 32.339 165.005 Y Meandering patterns.
Abrupt transition across
channel bed
Indeterminate; displays characteristics of both.
JMARS 18.586 184.194 Y Meandering patterns.
Smooth transition across
channel bed.
Secondary channels branch off
and re-join main channel.
Streamlined islands.
JMARS 12.75 182.625 Y Dendritic patterns.
Secondary channels branch off
and re-join main channel.
Streamlined islands.
Abrupt transition across
channel bed.
Abrupt changes
in channel direction 
Indeterminate; displays characteristics of both.
JMARS 11.590 N 180.746 Y Secondary channels branch off
and re-join main channel.
Streamlined islands.
Abrupt transition across
channel bed.
Indeterminate; displays characteristics of both.

Table 2: Sample images and corresponding elevation views

Location JMARS image MOLA Elevation View
165.005 E, 32.339 N    
184.194 E, 18.586 N    
182.625 E, 12.75 N    
180.746 E, 11.590 N    
183.834 E, 16.303 N    


As shown in Table 1 of the Data section, the THEMIS image displays characteristics that provide evidence of the past existence of fluvial systems.  These characteristics include very wide, shallow channels, streamlined islands, and meandering patterns; however, features in the surrounding area indicate evidence of lava systems.  One of those features is rafting, a condition associated with lava flow that is typically indicated by 90o bending of the channel (indicated in JMARS 11.375N and 181.25E). Our observation of rafting indicates that the characteristics of this area do not support water formation. All other surrounding areas that we analyzed were either indeterminate or indicated water formation. Out of the 7 areas analyzed, 4 areas were indeterminate with respect to cause of channel formation. While there is evidence supporting fluvial systems in our target THEMIS image, there is not enough evidence from the surrounding area for us to conclude our channel was created by water flow.

Based on images of the area surrounding our THEMIS image and the MOLA elevation maps, we have decided that the data is inconclusive.  Features found in the images and elevation maps contained characteristics of both water and lava. While most of the elevation maps leaned toward lava, there were features that were characteristic of water in the JMARS images. Since the area displays evidence of both fluvial and lava systems, it is possible that a volcanic eruption could have melted ice and created a system of water and lava as described by Schirber (2009), but future work is needed before this conclusion can be drawn.

When collecting our data, errors may have occurred due to a few factors. Inaccuracies could have occurred because of the inexperience of the student researchers.   Being in high school, the researchers have not had much exposure to Mars and its features, and this was our first experience interpreting satellite images and using JMARS.  Also, at the time the images were taken, there was a dust storm on Mars that prevented one of our images from being analyzed. Our data could have been misinterpreted because of the student researchers’ bias towards water systems.  Our question addresses the prevalence of fluvial systems, so there is a possibility that we were leaning towards fluvial systems over lava.


This project allowed the Sequoyah High School Honors Physics students to investigate evidence to address mankind’s persistent curiosity about the potential for life on Mars.  Specifically, the research effort focused on the presence of water since water is a necessary condition for life. Since the presence of channels provides evidence concerning the existence of water, the research was driven by the question, “Among channels existing on the surface of Mars, how prevalent are those exhibiting evidence of origins in fluvial systems rather than volcanic flow?”  The hypothesis developed was: Images of channels on the Martian surface and the examination of characteristics of those channels will indicate that some were created by water flow. Based on the evidence found in our target image and a thorough examination of the surrounding area, we are unable to conclude the exact method of formation of the channels that we reviewed because they displayed features of both water and lava systems.

The research question was developed with the goal of gaining an understanding of the relationship between life-sustaining water on Earth and the presence of water on Mars. Understanding this relationship offers insight into the future of our planet based on the history of Mars and the fate of Martian fluvial systems. Unfortunately, our data were inconclusive and more work is necessary to accurately determine the cause of channel formation in our target area of the Martian surface. If we expanded our surrounding area, we might find evidence of volcanic systems or impact craters that would provide more insight into the history of our area. Additionally, investigating the history of weather phenomena in our area could provide more evidence to assist in establishing more definitively the origins of the channel systems in our target area.


The Sequoyah High School Honors Physics class would like to acknowledge and thank our teacher Mrs. Geddes for providing mentorship and guidance for this project. We would also like to thank Jessica Swann of the Mars Space Flight Facility for her dedication to our efforts.

The students of the Sequoyah High School 2012 1st period honors physics are: Michelle Blankinship, Deanna Cape, Megan Cargin, Cody Copeland,  Tori Falco, Bobby Flanagan, Joe Garcia, Christina Herd, Natalie Hopkins, Stephen Ibar, Emily Kidd, Lauren LoPiccolo, Megan Pace, Connor Reeder, James Rogers, Priscilla Rojas, Megan Simms, Anna Singh, Haley Smith, Ayana Thomas, Yulian Vieta, Kristin White, and Derek Willingham.


Arizona State University Mars Space Flight Facility. (n.d.). Mars has more channels than previously thought. Retrieved April 3, 2012, from Mars Odyssey THEMIS: http://themis.asu.edu/node/5399

Christensen, P.R., N.S. Gorelick, G.L. Mehall, and K.C. Murray. THEMIS Public Data Releases, Planetary Data System node, Arizona State University, <http://marsed.asu.edu/files/MSIPResourceManualv200.pdf&gt;.

Google Mars. (2012). 18.622 N and 184.154 E Retreived May 21, 2012.

Mars Student Imaging Program. (2007, May 31). Feature ID Chart.  Retrieved April 3, 2012, from Welcome to the Mars Student Imaging Program: http://marsed.mars.asu.edu/files/msip_resources/FeatureIDCharts.pdf

Miles, K. and Peters, C. (2008). The Martian Atmosphere. Retrieved April 3 2012, 2012, from Starry Skies: http://starryskies.com/solar_system/mars/martian_atmosphere.html

NASA Astrobiology Institute. (2007, December 21). Is Water Necessary for Life? Retrieved April 3, 2012, from Astrobiology: Life in the Universe: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/seminars/detail/161.

Schirber, M. (2009, December 10). The meandering channels of mars. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from Astrobiology Magazine: http://www.astrobio.net/exclusive/3337/the-meandering-channels-of-mars.

Swann, J. (2012, April 18), Education and Technology Specialist with Mars Space Flight Facility, in a teleconference with Sequoyah High School Honors Physics Students.

Watt, K. (2002). Mars Student Imaging Project: Resource Manuel. Retrieved June 29, 2006, (April 3, 2012) from Arizona State University, Mars Student Imaging Project Web site: http://msip.asu.edu/curriculum.html.

Webster, G. &. (2010, September 9). NASA Data Shed New Light About Water and Volcanoes on Mars. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from http://www.nasa.gov: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/news/phx20100909.html.

Zubritsky, E. (2010, March 4). Lava likely made river-like channel on Mars. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from http://www.nasa.gov: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/mars-lava-channels.html.

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North American Venus Transit Coming June 5, 2012

The 2004 transit of Venus from the Flagler Beach Pier in Florida. The next transit is on 4/5 June. Photograph: Jim Tiller/AP

He bows to his partner;
Enchanted by her elusiveness.
Last dance of the century.








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