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Michael L. Allen
Senior Instructor
mlfa@wsu.edu
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Washington State University
Farming in Space: Developing a Sustainable Food Supply on Mars

If you were limited to choosing only three crops to sustainably farm in an arid, inhospitable environment, what would they be and how would you decide? This interrupted case study places students in the role of a proposed self-sufficient Martian colony that requires an optimized profile of food crops. After students form small groups, they discuss the factors that affect sustainability of a food supply, determine criteria for selection of crops to grow, and rank crops using these criteria. Lists of criteria and of foodstuffs are provided, but the case can easily be transformed into a problem-based learning (PBL) case by having students research and generate their own lists. The case includes questions that walk students through the selection process and require them to explain why they chose their criteria and how those criteria apply to their chosen foods. The case is designed for undergraduate students at the introductory level in courses in astronomy/astrobiology, food science/nutrition, agricultural engineering, or any discipline where sustainability is a key theme.


The Moon: What’s It Made of? Where Did It Come From?

The overall goal of this interrupted case study is for students to practice confirmation/disconfirmation reasoning while learning the basics of solar system and Moon formation. Students will compare predictions corresponding to various Moon formation scenarios with the measured composition of Moon rocks returned by the Apollo missions. Given five different formation scenarios, students will reason by process of elimination to identify the most likely scenario.  An overview of solar system formation is given at the outset.  A series of reflective questions at the end of the case connects the content with wider issues in planetary science involving other moons and other solar systems. The case, which is self-contained, is suitable for undergraduate lower-division students of any major, although it is ideally targeted at non-STEM majors who have had some introduction to the solar system.