ASU's Mars research team took center stage at China's national celebration of science and technology, and tens of thousands of Chinese citizens -- including schoolchildren, scientists, engineers and senior members of government -- took notice.
The result was one of those rare events in which planets seem to align, paths and destinies cross, and magic happens.
China is a nation galvanized by its successful 2003 entry into manned space flight, only the third nation in history to put together the manpower, resources, knowledge and political will to launch a human into orbit and successfully return him to Earth. But China's space program also is the embodiment of a remarkable sense of national pride following years of economic reforms that have produced the world's fastest-growing economy.
ASU is the first university outside of China invited to stage an exhibition as part of that nation's annual national celebration of science and technology. The ASU exhibit -- titled "Welcome to Mars!" -- occupied 5,000 square feet at the Haidian Park Exhibition Hall in Beijing.
The exhibit is the latest in a series of efforts designed to increase ASU's presence in China since President Michael Crow came to ASU in 2002.
The exhibit opened May 14 with a ceremonial walkthrough by some of the highest-ranking dignitaries in Chinese science, and it culminated in a visit by Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei. Members of the ASU delegation also presented seminars at Tsinghua University, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the China Association of Space Technology on the topics of remote sensing, Mars research and sustainability to attentive Chinese academics, government officials and members of industry. "Welcome to Mars!" has now relocated to Beijing's new planetarium for an extended run.
"Welcome to Mars!" featured ASU planetary geologist Phil Christensen and his research and outreach teams. At the opening of the exhibit, Christensen demonstrated the use of one of the instruments he designed to enable Madam Chen Zhili, a high-ranking state council member, to target an imaging location on Mars in real time. The image was taken, printed and presented to the science commission at the closing celebration.
Christensen's presence delighted Chinese aeronautical engineers, geoscientists and others who were aware of his international stature and the importance of his work, and his time at the exhibit was punctuated by frequent interviews with the media.
Christensen and his team also took turns hosting "Ask a Martian" on one of the exhibit's stages, allowing members of the audience to ask wide-ranging questions about the geology of Mars.
Chinese audiences participated in a variety of exhibits and interactive adventures to learn about space flight, the solar system, and Mars and its geology. ASU's award-winning Mars outreach team worked with Chinese student teacher volunteers to engage the thousands of schoolchildren coming through the exhibit in hands-on learning activities.
Students built air-powered rockets out of paper, created miniature solar systems through strings and beads to understand relative distances between planets, and conducted forensic analyses of a bag of rocks and other materials to develop hypotheses about the types of geologic processes and biosystems that might produce such material.
Images taken from Christensen's THEMIS camera onboard the Odyssey spacecraft orbiting Mars enabled students to study the features of Mars and develop hypotheses about their formation.
Meteorites from the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies were housed under transparent domes on an elevated table display. The specimens, including two rare pieces from Mars, intrigued viewers and stimulated animated discussions with the research team about meteorites, their origin and their identification.
Some of ASU's exhibits demonstrate the use of Mars-based research technology applied to our planet, including remote sensing applications that allowed citizens of Beijing to see their city from the air for the first time.
"Welcome to Mars!" was the result of an extraordinary planning and implementation effort led by Jennie Si, director of China initiatives for ASU's Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Affairs. Si led the project, which involved teams from both ASU and China, from the initial exploratory discussions through final implementation. Her extensive network of senior contacts enabled ASU to achieve high levels of awareness and exposure in a short period of time.
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