Students design experiments that could fly on space station

May 18, 2014

What do cheese, acid, probiotics, planaria, and mold have in common? And what do they have to do with outer space?

These and other questions were considered by 300 NISD fifth and sixth grade students who designed experiments that could fly on the International Space Station in the fall of 2014.

Twenty-four schools in Northside participated in Mission 6 of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) designed by the National Center for Earth and Space Education (NCESSE), in partnership with NanoRacks.

Based on real-world science proposal models, teams of students researched science projects and wrote proposals that were submitted for a two-step approval process. Forty-five proposals were reviewed by a local review board made up of educators and researchers from Southwest Research Institute, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the UT Health Science Center, and Northside.

On June 2 three finalists will be announced, including the finalist chosen by a national review board whose experiment will fly onboard the International Space Station.

Students began working on their projects in February and proposals were due at the end of April. Researchers from Southwest Research Institute and UTSA worked with students at many of the schools.

Briscoe Middle School sixth grader Trinity Garcia and Hoffmann Elementary School fifth graders Jordan Bafford and Nolan Clemons extract a planaria sample to study its movement on moist cork.

Middle school and elementary schools teamed up for the project. Teams are Briscoe MS/Hoffmann ES, Garcia MS/Beard ES/Helotes ES, Hobby MS/Howsman ES, Jefferson MS, Ward ES, Neff MS/Oak Hills Terrace ES/Glass ES, Pease MS/Hatchett ES, Rayburn MS/Allen ES, Ross MS/Esparza ES, Rudder MS/Thornton ES, Vale MS/Forester ES, and Zachry MS/Knowlton ES.

Research topics included:

  • Freshness of cheese (Rudder/Thornton) – due to microgravity, which cheese will stay freshest the longest? Parmesan, Half-Fat Cheddar, or Swiss?
  • Growth of probiotic (Rayburn/Allen) – can Lactobacillus Acidophilus grow in micro-gravity?
  • Acid-induced weathering (Hobby/Howsman) – How does gravity affect the weathering of rock by acid?
  • Planaria reproduction (Briscoe/Hoffmann) – how will micro-gravity affect the rate of regeneration of planaria?
  • Mold growth (Pease/Hatchett) – what is the effect of microgravity on bread mold growth?
  • Decomposition (Vale/Forester) – what effects does micro-gravity have on the process of decomposition of organic material and the bacteria commonly used to enhance the process of decomposition?

Briscoe Middle School sixth graders, Lauryn Hernandez and Laura Vargas look at planaria (flatworms) under a microscope. They are researching the regeneration of planaria.

“This is a wonderful experience for our fifth and sixth grade students,” said Superintendent Dr. Brian Woods. “This hands-on, real-world exercise could lead to any number of careers in the STEM field for these young people. Their future could truly be ‘out of this world.’”

SSEP is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in partnership with Nanoracks, LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.