CU-Boulder space station experiments to involve K-12 students around the globe

December 04, 2006

A high-flying K-12 education effort by the University of Colorado at Boulder will feature two science investigations launching on a NASA space shuttle this week and continuing on for extended stays aboard the International Space Station.

A payload carrying a seed germination experiment and a second experiment involving eyelash-sized worms will be launched Dec. 7 aboard the space shuttle Discovery from Cape Kennedy, Fla., said Louis Stodieck, director of the BioServe Space Technologies Center. Headquartered in CU-Boulder's aerospace engineering sciences department, BioServe will downlink video, still images and data from the experiments to its educational partners, who will provide the information and accompanying curriculum materials to teachers working with an estimated 1,000 elementary, middle and high school students in the United States and abroad, Stodieck said.

Some classrooms will track the effects of near zero gravity on the germination of radish and alfalfa seeds orbiting Earth on the space station, comparing the effects to seeds bound by Earth's gravity sprouting simultaneously in their own schools, said Stodieck. Other students will focus on a group of nematodes known as C. elegans that will ride on the space station, with students remotely monitoring. population dynamics, physiology, daily movements and even gene activity, including possible genetic mutations caused by space radiation.

"This is an exciting project for BioServe and a great opportunity to engage K-12 students in space research," Stodieck said of the payload, called "CSI" by the BioServe team. "We want to help meet teacher educational objectives, but also conduct meaningful scientific research on gravity-dependent biological processes that support NASA's program for the human exploration of space."

BioServe, a NASA Research Partnership Center, will join forces with two educational partners. The seed experiment involves a program called Adventures of the Agronauts at North Carolina State University -- a free, online science curriculum with a space biology theme for elementary students -- while the nematode project involves Orion's Quest, a Web-based education program based in Detroit that works closely with NASA and various schools on K-12 space education efforts, he said.

Since the seeds in space will be sprouting in a translucent, gel-like material, the students will be able to chart root and stem growth, comparing them to seeds sprouted on Earth that orient themselves toward the soil surface in response to gravity. "A seed germinating in the low gravity of space is a bit like a swimmer underwater in the dark who loses all perception on which way is up," Stodieck said.

The nematode experiment is sponsored by the Malaysian Space Agency and will involve an automated growth chamber designed and built by BioServe that will maintain a population of C. elegans, a popular organism in labs around the world whose genome is now fully sequenced by scientists, said Stodieck. High- and low-resolution cameras on the space station will allow scientists and participating middle school and high school students to track changes in population, morphology and movement of the translucent worms on orbit.

"If these nematodes lose muscle mass like astronauts lose muscle mass during space flight, the students should be able to see it in their daily behavior," Stodieck said. "We anticipate the students will be able to do quite a lot of research on these organisms, some of which should be publishable in scientific journals."

The seeds and worms will fly on BioServe's Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, or CGBA, a suitcase-sized payload that has been used to carry out dozens of life science and biomedical experiments. Versions of the CGBA have flown on more than a dozen shuttle missions, and a CGBA delivered to the International Space Station in 2001 is still there.

After the nematode payload is returned to Earth, scientists will be able to look closely at the physiology and genetics of the nematodes, which reach sexual maturity in about a week, he said. The orbit duration of the C. elegans experiment will be more than 10 times longer than any previous nematode experiment in space.

We anticipate being able to look at accumulated genetic mutations over about 30 generations of these organisms," he said. Such organisms could conceivably be used as biological "dosimeters," or devices used to measure exposure to cumulative doses of radiation over time, as NASA prepares for manned missions to the moon and Mars, where space radiation is more severe than in the near-Earth environment, he said.

The Malaysian Space Agency will work with government officials there to involve hundreds of Malaysian high school students in the projects, said Stodieck. Summit Middle School in Boulder also will be participating.

BioServe hopes to launch such educational experiments with NASA on an annual basis, teaming with industrial partners, he said.
-end-
More information on BioServe can be found on the Web site at: http://www.colorado.edu/engineering/BioServe/index.html. For information on Orion's Quest go to: http://www.orionsquest.org/. Information on Adventures of Agronauts is available at http://www.ncsu.edu/project/agronauts.

For additional information about the BioServe program, call business development manager Stefanie Countryman at (303) 735-5308.

University of Colorado at Boulder

Related International Space Station Articles from Brightsurf:

Amyloid formation in the International Space Station
The collaborative research team of Japan using the International Space Station (ISS) successfully characterized Alzheimer's disease-related amyloid fibril formation under microgravity conditions.

Bacteria on the International Space Station no more dangerous than earthbound strains
Two particularly tenacious species of bacteria have colonized the potable water dispenser aboard the International Space Station (ISS), but a new study suggests that they are no more dangerous than closely related strains on Earth.

NASA researchers catalogue all microbes and fungi on the International Space Station
A comprehensive catalogue of the bacteria and fungi found on surfaces inside the International Space Station (ISS) is being presented in a study published in the open-access journal Microbiome.

Superbugs have colonized the International Space Station -- but there's a silver lining
Researchers have taken another small step towards deep space exploration, by testing a new silver- and ruthenium-based antimicrobial coating aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Technology developed in Brazil will be part of the International Space Station
Presented during FAPESP Week London, instrument created in São Paulo will be improved in collaboration with Russia and will measure solar flares; launch is scheduled for 2022.

'Dust up' on International Space Station hints at sources of structure
In a lab on Earth, electrically charged dust generally lines up either along the downward pull of gravity or across it.

May the forest be with you: GEDI moves toward launch to space station
GEDI (pronounced like 'Jedi,' of Star Wars fame) is a first-of-its-kind laser instrument designed to map the world's forests in 3-D from space.

The bacterial community on the International Space Station resembles homes
Microbiologists at the University of California, Davis analyzed swabs taken by astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) and compared them with samples from homes on earth as well as the Human Microbiome Project.

NASA watching Harvey from satellites and the International Space Station
NASA has a lot of resources providing information on Tropical Storm Harvey as it continues to drop tremendous, flooding rainfall on Texas and Louisiana.

Experiment aboard space station studies 'space weather'
To study conditions in the ionosphere, Cornell University research engineer Steven Powell and others in the College of Engineering have developed the FOTON (Fast Orbital TEC for Orbit and Navigation) GPS receiver.

Read More: International Space Station News and International Space Station Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.