At the beginning of next year, a CU-based space center will prepare student science experiments for a journey to the final frontier.
These experiments will be the products of an international contest called Space Lab, which is sponsored by YouTube, Lenovo, Space Adventures and additional space agencies. The contest asks students aged 14 to 18 to design either physics or biology experiments that can be conducted in the microgravity environment of space.
When the winners of the Space Lab contest are selected, BioServe Space Technologies, a CU housed space center, will be in charge of readying the experiments to fly into space and be conducted aboard the ISS, said Stephanie Countryman, Bioserve’s business development manager.
BioServe’s extensive experience in flying life science experiments contributed to its selection for the contest.
“NASA actually recommended us for Space Lab,” Countryman said. “We’ve flown hundreds of life science experiments on the space shuttle and the ISS, and we have a long history of working with K-12 educational programs to fly experiments that kids follow along with in their classrooms.”
According to Countryman, the Space Lab competition is designed to reach students across the globe. YouTube announced the contest in 20 different languages, and will accept the video entries in 12 languages. The winners of the contest will be selected by both a public vote and by a panel of distinguished judges, including British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, two NASA administrators, and Cirque de Soleil founder Guy Laliberté.
The importance of conducting these student experiments in space is related to the effects of gravity, Countryman said. On earth, environments with little to no gravity are costly and difficult to produce, and exist only for miniscule amounts of time.
“All of the laws of physics have been developed in gravity,” Countryman said. “And every organism on earth has been developing for thousands of years in this environment of gravity. Conducting these experiments in space allows us to observe whether Newton’s laws will still apply, and whether a certain organism will be able to go through its whole life cycle without gravity and be successful.”
BioServe has four small habitats that the biological experiments can be housed in. When the winning experiments are chosen, BioServe will customize these habitats to ensure that they can support the organism. The habitats will then be placed inside BioServe’s flagship piece of hardware, the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus or CGBA.
The CGBA is a “smart incubator,” Countryman said, and it can sustain the environments and temperatures necessary to support a variety of organisms.
BioServe employs scientists, engineers, and a number of CU students, both at the graduate and undergraduate level.
Luis Zea, 30, a graduate student in aerospace engineering, works for BioServe in research and development, and plans to be involved with the Space Lab competition. He and other BioServe students made videos that are available to view on YouTube that explain how to use the four habitats available for the competition.
“We will be involved with these experiments throughout the whole process, from when they are first chosen and launched to when they come back to earth,” Zea said. “Of the four different habitats that the students can choose from, I am mainly involved with one of them, called the OPM [OptiCell Processing Module].”
Zea said his involvement with BioServe stems from his love of bioastronautics.
“I think bioastronautics is in my genes,” Zea said. “I’ve just loved it ever since I was a kid. Seeing men and women explore and expanding our boundaries in space, that’s what drives me.”
Matthew Duchek, 23, a graduate student in aerospace engineering, thinks that the Space Lab competition will provide students with a better understanding of the scientific method and how to design real experiments.
“To be able to fly their experiments in space is a great opportunity, something that will get them inspired and let them see things that maybe have never been seen before,” Duchek said. “I would have loved to do something like this when I was in high school.”
To view the Space Lab competition, visit: http://www.youtube.com/spacelab.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Hadley Vandiver at Hadley.firstname.lastname@example.org.