This story was corrected on Nov. 4, 2014. An explanation follows the story.

They are only seventh- and eighth-graders, but as they sat at lunch eating pizza, they discussed the Van Allen Belt, magnetic spheres and solar probes.

Malik Torres, Ebrahim Cham, Liam Olagbaju and Lalut Alabo, students at Parkland Magnet Middle School for Aerospace Technology in Rockville, were among 25 students from the school at a program Thursday at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.

There they learned about two space missions scientists are working on: the Van Allen Probes and Solar Probe Plus.

Chris Peterson-Tardif, the students’ research in astronomy teacher, said there was absolutely a connection between the presentation and what her students are studying.

“We study space missions,” she said. “These added to the list, especially the solar mission, because we study the sun. They were able to apply the knowledge they learned in class.”

Malik agreed that the classwork helped him get more out of the field trip.

“The magnetic spheres and the Van Allen Belt, I kind of understood because I know a little bit about [them],” he said.

The students listened while a panel of four scientists discussed the missions, their purpose and plan, and how scientists work to overcome the technical difficulties of sending spacecraft far from Earth and still be able to communicate with them.

Those same scientists joined the students over pizza to share more and learn about the students’ plans for science careers.

Adrian Hill, an engineer on the Van Allen Probes project, sat with three Parkland seventh-graders, Linease Paul, Lani Tran and Ashley Tien. All three girls said they are more interested in medicine than aerospace but enjoy the science. They study a lot of science at Parkland.

“Every child takes two science classes in an eight-period schedule. With electives, there is the possibility of taking three science classes, making a student’s schedule one-half [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] related (including their math class),” Parkland’s magnet coordinator Donna M. Blaney wrote in an email.

Peterson-Tardif’s class is one of the electives.

After lunch the students donned white “clean room suits” for a tour of one of the facility’s labs, Building 23, where every spacecraft the lab has built since 1985 has been assembled, said Ed Reynolds, program manager for the Van Allen Probes.

The Parkland students joined students from Annapolis Middle School and Clarksville Middle School for the program, which was cosponsored by Johns Hopkins and Discovery Education. The program is offered twice each year, said Geoffrey Brown of the lab.

“The Applied Physics Laboratory is unique. We are not NASA, but we work closely with NASA,” Brown said. The lab wants to show the students that “space is a big industry in Maryland, there are lots of jobs and it’s our STEM outreach.”

Lindsay Pence of Discovery Education said her company works with the lab to promote real-world experiences for the kids.

“And to get them excited about learning,” she said.

Explanation: The original version misspelled the last name of Lindsay Pence.

pmcewan@gazette.net