My advisor wasn’t keen on the idea, and it was way, way out of my wheelhouse. But I pushed on anyway, for three reasons I can remember.Astrobiology has only been considered a legitimate scientific endeavor since the ’60s. So every study felt fresh and exciting. It’s also inherently multidisciplinary — requiring geologists, climate scientists, astrophysicists, engineers, DNA experts, microbiologists and even philosophers — which meant my story would have lots of different voices. Perhaps most important, all of those voices are focused on one Big Question: Are we alone in the universe?

For the same reasons, astrobiology is perfect for science education, or so argues a new study in the journal Astrobiology. Researchers from the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, surveyed high schoolers before and after completing a one-day museum program in which they pretended to be scientists involved in Mars rover missions. The study found that this simulation corrected some of the students’ misperceptions about science and scientists.

These effects, though, were small. Overall the study was quite depressing, especially on one point: Even after completing the program, around two-thirds of the students said they didn’t think that scientists are creative or use their imaginations.

This is a massive problem. And fixing it will take a lot more than flashy rovers and the promise of aliens.