From the Classroom to Zero Gravity:
How ZF and Yuri Are Inspiring Students to Learn About STEM

EDITOR: JULIAN WESCH & JESSICA GARFIELD

There are not many subjects as fascinating as the thought of flying into space and experiencing zero gravity. With a new approach to teaching students about science and technology, ZF and Yuri Gravity set out to give groups of young students the opportunity to use their imagination and skills to develop an experiment for a parabolic flight , in which they experience zero gravity.

he collaboration between between ZF and Yuri Gravity, a startup from the lake Constance area in Germany, started in October 2019 when they discussed ideas for getting students at a local school excited about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). They came up with the idea of hosting a pitch event with the objective of inspiring the students by giving them an opportunity to prepare a scientific experiment to test in zero gravity conditions.

Research in microgravity helps to understand the inner workings of biological and physical systems and therefore enables advancements in pharmaceutical development, bio technology, agriculture and material science.

The pitch event was designed to promote a structured project management approach to all students, by providing them with support during three technology boot camps organized from ZF and Yuri Gravity. In addition, all participating teams would be assisted by a teacher, who would help the students throughout the development phase of their project. At the end, the selected teams would present their completed scientific experiments in a pitch event at ZF, while a jury would decide which team would win a parabolic flight to test and demonstrate their experiment under real zero gravity conditions.

The Project

Soon after their first meeting, ZF and Yuri Gravity divided the responsibilities for the organization of the pitch event and collaboration. ZF took care of the organization of the kick-off event, the tech bootcamps and the pitch event, while Yuri Gravity focused on all topics related to the zero gravity aspects, such as the introduction to the topics and the coaching of the students. The latter included the relevant details about the experiments in
zero gravity and the parabolic flight itself.

Once the first bootcamp was launched, both partners supported the pupils with advice and resources to set up the experiments. After the kick-off event, it became clear that ZF and Yuri Gravity would not be able to carry out the pitch event as planned, due to the required time for the development of ideas and restrictions concerning the flight in Switzerland. Therefore, the team pivoted the goals and timeline in order to enable a successful learning
experience for the pupils.

Outcome

ZF and Yuri Gravity have created the framework for an innovative educational program that introduces young students to STEM disciplines. The pitch event format leads to a hands-on approach for students to expand their technical knowledge and learn professional skills such as project management tools, which are essential for future scientists.

In the future, ZF and Yuri Gravity will expand the pitch event to a 6-to-12 month hackathon project for student teams, with the objective of bringing their own scientific experiment to zero gravity. An event hosted internally by ZF will include a prominent jury to select the winning team and provide the platform to announce the results of the hackathon.

Acknowledgements

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Philipp Lang (ZF, Digital entrepreneur), Martin Herrmann (Leader advanced sensors) and the whole Yuri Gravity team.

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Contact for this project

Alina Biermann, Ventures Associate, STARTUP AUTOBAHN powered by Plug and Play, alina@pnptc.com

Dr. Gandert Van Raemdonck, Head of Innovation Lab Commercial Vehicle Systems, ZF Friedrichshafen, gandert.vanraemdonck@zf.com

Dr. Joscha Märkle-Huß, Global Venture Scouting, ZF Friedrichshafen
joscha.maerkle-huss@zf.com

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