Anne-Marije Rook

Ballard High School students to place an experiment aboard U.S. Space Shuttle

(click on photo to see more pictures)

A Ballard High School student experiment was selected to be part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) and will fly for 14 days aboard Shuttle Endeavour on one of its final two flights.

Designed by students in BHS biotechnology and astronomy programs, the experiment pertains to the growth of E.Coli cells in space.

Once in orbit, a population of dormant non-pathenogenic E. Coli will be inserted into a liquid growth medium. The cells will reproduce at a different rate than on earth.

“So we keep these E.Coli cells and the growth solution separate. We won’t touch them and once they’re in space and astronaut will pull a lever which will unite them and allow them to grow,” said student Katie Kemp.

After the flight students will recover and freeze a population of these well-traveled cells grown in microgravity and compare them to the same strain of stay-at-home E. Coli for changes like mutations, plasmid uptake ability, and growth rate.

“In free-fall space, the bacteria will be exposed to more radiation - ultraviolet, gamma-rays, photons, etc and this will have an effect on the growth,” said teacher Eric Muhs, who has been running the new astrobiology course.

In the classroom, the students have been experimenting with growing bacteria at different gravity-levels using a spinning foam blade to similate high gravity and a so-called “spindle” to simulate low gravity.

“What we’re expecting is higher mutations and the growth rate will probably be higher,” said student Lewis Gensen.

“With no gravity, they’ll have easier access to the nutrition and that will make them grow faster,” said student Danny Thomson.

Seattle Public Schools secured partial funding for this project through the Washington Space Consortium and Muhs said that by freezing a population of the well-travelled E.Coli, future students will be able to work with these cells for years to come.

“I’m interested in genetics and like so many people, I’m awestruck with space. It’s really good to have this experience,” Thomson said.

Only 15 school districts in the United States are participating in the SSEP and a few selected student experiments will fly aboard the Shuttle. The liftoff scheduled for February 27, 2011 and Muhs is preparing to take his students to Florida to witness the launch.

“They really worked hard on this. They’re young scientists,” Muhs said. “It will be great for them to be there at the launch.”

The SSEP is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE), a project of the 501(c)(3) Tides Center, 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.

For more information on the student projects please visit their website.

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