Education and
Public Engagement
at the Lunar and Planetary Institute
Health in Space

Space Radiation - UV Kid

Overview

Children use common craft materials and ultraviolet (UV)-sensitive beads to construct a person (or dog or imaginary creature):  UV Kid! They use sunscreen, foil, paper, and more to test materials that might protect UV Kid — and ourselves! — from being exposed to too much UV radiation.

Activity Time

60 minutes

Intended Audience

Families or other mixed-age groups, including children as young as 4 years old with assistance from an older child, teen, or adult
School-aged children ages 5–7 and 8–9
Tweens up to about age 13

Type of Program

Facilitated hands-on experience
Station, presented in combination with related activities
Passive program
☐ Demonstration by facilitator

What's the Point?

Materials

For the Facilitator

For Each Group of 10–15 Children

Supporting Media

Websites

NASA’s Spot The Station
As the third-brightest object in the sky, the International Space Station is easy to see if you know when to look up. Use NASA’s Spot The Station service to find upcoming sighting opportunities for several thousand locations worldwide. Plus, sign up to receive notices of opportunities via e-mail or text message!

International Space Station
Find information about the space station, its international crew, and how they live and work in space.

Tour of the Electromagnetic Spectrum
Explore the amazing world beyond the visible! Text and images introduce electromagnetic waves, where they come from, how they behave, and how scientists use them. In addition to the website, a book is available for download as a PDF, and there is a companion video. Appropriate for ages 12 and up.

Handouts

SunWise Program (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
The EPA’s SunWise Program offers a toolkit and a variety of downloadable resources in English and in Spanish, some of which offer fun comparisons to the sun-safety habits of animals.

Preparation

Six months before the activity

The day before the activity

Activity

1.  Share ideas and knowledge.

2.  Guide the children in each creating a person or creature with a built-in UV-radiation “detector.” Explain that they will incorporate UV beads, which are made from a special pigment that is very sensitive and turns colors when exposed to UV rays. With the help of UV Kid, they will investigate the source of UV radiation and how we can best protect UV Kid — and ourselves! — from it. Have the children follow these steps to create a UV Kid (and make their own variations, if they’d like!):

3.  Observe UV Kid’s UV radiation detectors (i.e., the UV beads) indoors, in shade, and finally, in full sunlight.  Encourage the participants to discuss their predictions first, then their observations, with each other and with you. Be thoughtful about your approach and keep the UV beads covered when walking outside to a shady spot. After making observations, “reset” the beads by covering them for about one minute and have a discussion to predict what will happen in full sunlight. After moving to full sunlight, continue making observations and discussing possible explanations for those observations. Once indoors, continue making observations about the beads’ appearance and discussing possible explanations for those observations.

4.  Test two materials to see if they protect UV Kid from UV radiation. Generate ideas for how the children might prevent the beads from changing again in full sunlight. Use everyday experiences, such as wearing clothing, using sunscreen, using umbrellas, or staying inside, to consider how UV Kid — and astronauts in space — can similarly protect themselves. Invite the children to thoughtfully test different materials:

5.  Conclude. Summarize that we encounter UV radiation every day from sunlight. While some UV radiation is necessary for our health, too much can harm humans (and other living organisms). Overexposure to UV radiation causes the skin to burn, sometimes badly (ouch!!). Extreme or excessive burning of the skin can lead to skin cancer. UV radiation can harm our eyes, as well. Engineers and scientists test materials — just like the children did — to find ways to keep astronauts safe from UV radiation in space. On Earth, we can protect ourselves from harmful UV radiation by wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen, wearing sunglasses, not staying out in the Sun for extended periods, and not expecting the shade to protect us. Challenge the group to continue testing UV Kid’s protective materials in other settings, such as inside a car or outdoors on cloudy days.

Extension

Challenge the participants to use craft items to construct and decorate a space capsule for UV Kid! Offer a variety of building materials, such as:

Offer illustrations of the engineering design process (The Works or Design Squad are good options), and encourage the participants to iteratively test and change their designs — just like professional engineers do!