STEM: Bringing thermal imaging into the classroom - Education Matters


STEM: Bringing thermal imaging into the classroom

STEM curriculum thermal imaging in the classroom FLIR

Bringing thermal imaging into the classroom, FLIR’s thermal cameras are offering exciting learning opportunities within the STEM curriculum. Senior Research Scientist at FLIR Systems, Austin Richards, discusses an example of how this technology is currently being used in the real world – and beyond.

FLIR’s thermal imaging cameras are helping to teach students the fundamentals of physics, by measuring heat. Offering exciting opportunities for classroom learning in the STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), FLIR allows students to see and discover friction, insulation, heat and other thermodynamic phenomena and reactions.
Thermal imaging cameras make it possible to easily see the thermal properties of materials and objects; heat conduction, convection and radiation; heat insulation, friction, energy transformation and phase change.

A lunar eclipse
Earlier this year, as the earth briefly passed between the sun and the moon, a phenomenon known as a lunar eclipse occurred. During a lunar eclipse, the moon has a bloody appearance, a consequence of being cast in the earth’s shadow and illuminated only by red sunlight refracted by our atmosphere. This much can be seen by the naked eye, but advanced thermal imaging reveals even more. The moon’s surface, normally heated to high temperatures by the sun, radiates heat away rapidly when sunlight is blocked during an eclipse, resulting in extraordinary pictures when the moon is imaged by a long-range thermal infrared camera.

It was a partly cloudy evening on 20 January 2019 in Goleta, California where I set up an FLIR RS8303 thermal infrared camera telescope to image the eclipse at its maximum at 9:12pm PST. The telescope is a high definition mid-wave IR camera behind an infrared zoom lens with a 10:1 zoom ratio. It’s a massive beast that military range customers typically attach to a kinetic tracking mount. The RS8303 was originally designed for tracking missiles and rockets, but it has other uses like long-range surveillance, animal studies and astronomy. I had used it previously to capture mid-wave IR images of the total solar eclipse in August of 2017.

The RS8303 was mounted on a heavy-duty tripod and pointed east at the moon’s path. At the full zoom setting of the lens, the field of view was just about the same size as the full moon. Since I don’t have an equatorial tracking mount for this camera, I had to manually track the moon in between gaps in the clouds. I used FLIR ResearchIR software to continuously record one frame per second to a laptop’s hard drive.

When the moon finally showed itself during a gap in the clouds, the eclipse was close to its maximum extent. The view was stunning. Hundreds of craters showed up as hot spots on the surface, a testament to the higher absorption of sunlight by the crater surface relative to the smoother mares (basaltic plains on the moon’s surface). The hottest, brightest crater is Tycho. The large craters Copernicus and Plato are also notable.

Earlier temperature measurements of Tycho taken during the total lunar eclipse on 5 September 1960 have been attributed to a couple of factors. One, the thermal properties of the dust and rock in the crater, which are thought to slow the radiative heat loss that occurs during the eclipse. And two, optical properties of the crater’s surface which cause higher sunlight absorption than surrounding areas. Whatever the cause, the result is a fascinating phenomenon and a memorable lunar eclipse.

The thermal image of the moon during a lunar eclipse is made of two images stitched together vertically to show the entire surface. White is the hottest colour, followed by red and then black, based on the colours of the ‘blood moon’.

Thermal imaging in the classroom
FLIR systems bring the power of thermal imaging to school classrooms with its specially priced C3 or E6 education kits. Available exclusively to qualified educational institutions, educators and students, the kits include a FLIR C3 or E6 thermal imaging camera with integrated tripod mount, FLIR tools software, and access to FLIR education content with lesson plans, experiments, training videos and application notes.

These educational kits can be used for a range of practical exercises, allowing students to collect and collate quantifiable data that can form the basis of further lessons and discussions.

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