Middle school students from Wyoming and surrounding states will be transformed into star gazers and scientists during the University of Wyoming’sAstroCamp: Journey to theStars June 15-24.

The 10-day hands-on camp will allow students to observe the universe with professional telescopes; study astronomical images on computers; construct scientific spectrographs to identify chemical elements; build and launch model rockets; conduct soil tests; create solar ovens; and test their very own Mars landers to see whether, in this case, they can land an egg softly enough without breaking it.

“The university is embarking on a big initiative in engineering education,” says Chip Kobulnicky, an associate professor in the UW Department of Physics and Astronomy, referencing UW’s initiative to become a top-tier engineering school. “We’d like to encourage these kids to see science and engineering as majors and careers. The nation needs competent technical problem solvers. And these kids are the problem solvers of tomorrow.”

Professional astronomers; UW graduate students majoring in astronomy or education; and high school and junior high school teachers will lead the activities.

This marks the fifth consecutive year that UW has been chosen to host one of 20 ExxonMobil Harris Summer Science Camps. UW’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, in cooperation with the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium, will organize and run the event.

Students entering the sixth, seventh and eighth grades next fall -- from Wyoming, western Nebraska, northern Colorado and western South Dakota -- were encouraged to apply for the UW camp. The free academic camp supports historically underserved and underrepresented students with limited opportunities.

Campers were chosen based on demonstrated interest and academic potential in math, science, astronomy and space. Students need to have at least a “B” average in science and mathematics, and a passing score on the state’s standardized science and mathematics tests. As part of the application process, students have to submit a written essay (50 words or less) on why they want to attend the science camp.

Campers will attend classes that include problem solving, earth sciences, engineering and design concepts. Field excursions include an overnight camping trip under the stars near UW’s Wyoming Infrared Observatory, located on Jelm Mountain west of Laramie. Students will investigate the scientific, technological and biological factors that will be required to travel to distant planets and stars.

Founded in 1998 by Bernard Harris Jr., the Harris Foundation is a Houston, Texas-based nonprofit organization that invests in community-based initiatives to support education, health and wealth. The foundation supports programs that empower individuals to recognize and pursue their dreams. Harris is best known as the first African-American astronaut to walk in space and as a NASA researcher.

For the first time, Harris will be unable to attend UW’s AstroCamp due to commitments at 20 other similar camps this summer, Kobulnicky says. An ExxonMobil engineer or scientist will be the keynote speaker this year and will talk to the students at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 19, during the event’s annual media day.

For more information about AstroCamp, email Kobulnicky at chip@uwyo.edu or Daniel Dale, a professor and chair of UW’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, at ddale@uwyo.edu.