STEM Early College Experiment to Be Tested in Space

AStudents in lab coats team of high school scientists from The STEM Early College at N.C. A&T is interested in finding out if plants grow normally in zero gravity. Their findings could help grow crops in outer space one day to provide fresh food to astronauts, or in case people ever live on the moon or Mars.

Six students will have the opportunity to test their experiment on the International Space Station later this year. As a part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, they will be among a select group of students who have had the opportunity to conduct research in microgravity. The STEM Early College is one of 17 student teams selected for the mission currently underway.

During the mission, the student team will conduct two identical experiments - one in a test tube on the International Space Station and another in their classroom - to see how gravity effects the germination of an onion seed and whether the difference in gravity between outer space and Earth affects the direction of root and leaf growth in the plants. The students say the results of their experiment could help answer the question of whether life could be maintained in a place other than Earth.

The student members of the team from The STEM Early College are ninth-graders Todd Baldwin, Emma Mengistu, Andrew Harvey, Zoe Kelley, Gage Carlisle and Erik Feldmann. 

The STEM Early College experiment was selected from 74 proposals submitted by students from seven Guilford County middle and high schools. A local committee of 44 community members, professors, science professionals and Guilford County Schools (GCS) educators selected the top three experiments. A national review board convened by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, which administers the program, selected The STEM Early College's experiment for spaceflight.

Drawing of mission patch Two student-designed mission patches will travel to the International Space Station with the experiment. Eighth-grader McKenzie Kimrey from Northern Middle and senior Matthew Taylor from Northwest High created the artwork for the patches. The patches will be certified as having flown in space and returned for display in their respective schools.  

Drawing of mission patch Funding and support from the North Carolina Space Grant Consortium, Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering are making the experience possible. 

This is the third time GCS will participate in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. In 2011, a team from Mendenhall Middle designed an experiment on the effect of gravity on brine shrimp. The team conducted the experiment on the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour.

In 2012, students from Johnson Street Global Studies tested the effect of gravity on mold growth. Their experiment traveled to the International Space Station on the SpaceX Dragon, the first operational cargo resupply mission by a U.S. commercial spacecraft.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program is a national science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in partnership with NanoRacks LLC , which is working with NASA under a formal Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.