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    From left to right- Ethan Moore, Ryder Huskins, Kenneth Sanders, Gabriel McCarthy and Ian Ray. The five sixth-graders will present their project at the Smithsonian in June.

Future scientists experiment headed for space

A group of young scientists from REALM at Kerr Middle School are headed to the world-renowned Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C. this summer to present their “Effects of Microgravity on Penicillium Mold Growth” experiment to professionals in the field. The experiment was also selected for flight on the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 12 that will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in June.

The experiment was first chosen out of a group of 240 experiments. It was then narrowed down to the top three, which were sent to Washington D.C. to be judged by a group of scientists.

The team, made up of sixth-graders, is led by principal investigator Gabriel McCarthy, co-investigators Ryder Huskins and Kenneth Sanders, and collaborators Ethan Moore and Ian Ray.

Huskins said the goal of the experiment is to see if there is a difference between mold grown on earth and mold grown in space in microgravity.

“Because in space, things have the ability to move around and grow in different ways than they can on earth,” he said. “Which, for most things, it lets them grow more.”

Ray said the group decided to experiment with penicillium, because it is in so many medicines.

“We thought if we could grow penicillium in space that it would be really good for people who live up there, like astronauts, or if we colonize Mars,” he said.

Friday, the team will travel to Texas Christian University work with microbiology and chemistry professors first-hand.

“They’ve really helped us a lot in the process," said Laura Smith teacher in the REALM. “Friday we will be rehydrating the mold and putting everything together for the first time.”

McCarthy said meeting with the TCU professors has proved valuable, because it has taught the students techniques on how to keep their experiment sterile and stable.

“They’re going to show us how to eliminate any variability in our experiment,” he said. “They have helped us very much with our technique. One is actually planning to do an experiment like ours but with a different type of plant.”

To say that the boys were excited to find out that their experiment was selected for flight would be an understatement. All three student groups were gathered into a room to find out who won.

Ray likened his reaction to riding a roller coaster.

“I shut my eyes and said, ‘Please, please, please,’ and then when they told us I practically fell out of my chair,” he said. “Then I asked if I could call my parents.”

Teacher said that one of the most touching things about revealing who had won was the camaraderie between all three groups of students.

“What I loved most was that they walked to everyone and shook their hands and said, ‘Congratulations, you did a great job too,’” she said. “It just helps the other teams that didn’t win.”

After the success with their experiment, the boys said that they will continue to study science and may even study science in college.

“My favorite scientist is Neil deGrasse Tyson,” McCarthy said. “I’ve read two of his books and saw him live in Jan. 2017. He’s an astrophysicist, so I think I want to get a degree in astrophysics.”

Not only did the experiment teach these kids more about science and reasoning, it brought them together as a team, which may be the most important lesson learned.

“We couldn’t have done this without everyone here,” Sanders said. “Without this entire team, it wouldn’t have been the same experiment and we might not even have won.”


From the BISD website, more on SSEP:

SSEP is a U.S. National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education program that immerses students in every facet of authentic scientific research of their own design, using a highly captivating space flight opportunity on the International Space Station. SSEP Mission 12 to ISS provides a real research mini-laboratory capable of supporting a single microgravity experiment, and all launch services to fly the mini-lab to ISS Summer 2018, and return it safely to Earth for harvesting and analysis. Mirroring how professional research is done, student teams across the community submit research proposals, and go through a formal proposal review process to select the flight experiment.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program [or SSEP] is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S. and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre- college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.

Thank you to all the SSEP judges.

Kurtis C. Berner
Senior Program Manager, Integrated Air and Missile Defense
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control

Dr. Hana Dobrovolny
Assistant Professor of Biophysics
Texas Christian University

Jeff Gary
Chief Facility Engineer
High Speed Tunnel, Lockheed Martin Corporation.
Secretary - Supersonic Tunnel Association, International

Mrs. Jo Ann Smith Haedge
Former Burleson ISD Board of Trustee
Retired Educator
Burleson Character Council

Valerie Lisiecki
Head Athletic Trainer
The Injury Prevention Specialists

Mr. Joe Varnell
Systems Test Engineer
Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control

Mrs. Pat Worrell
Secretary, Burleson ISD Board of Trustee
Retired Educator
Co-Chair of Burleson Character Council

Mr. Christian Haughwout
Graduate Student
MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Jeff Bandy
Mechanical Engineer and Program Dir.
Vencore Corp

Jim Clark
PhD Candidate
MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Dr. Kay Furman
Biomedical Engineer
Graduate Women @ MIT
Ms. Mindy Quisenberry
Science Instructor
Former Flight Team Teacher/Facilitator
Arlington Classics Academy

Mr. Doug Cline
Science Instructor
Former Finalist Teacher Facilitator
Joshua, Texas

Mr. Steve Carr
Fellow at Lockheed Martin
Defense and Space
Burleson, Texas

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