Students share excitement with local middle schoolers

OCEAN CITY — One day after their experiments were sent back to Earth from the International Space Station, the six Ocean City High School student scientists and their advisers met for a lunch with area middle school students to discuss the project.

On Wednesday, Feb. 11, seniors Dan Loggi of Palermo, Mercy Griffith and Kristina Redmond, both of Ocean City, Alison Miles and Lauren Bowersock, both of Seaville, and Kaitland Wriggins of Tuckahoe met with students from the gifted and talented programs at Ocean City Intermediate School, Upper Township Middle School and Eugene Tighe Middle School in Margate.

The students ate pizza and chatted, asking questions and learning about the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program. Through the program, the high schoolers had the opportunity to have their original experiment analyzing the effect of microgravity on the attachment rate of E. coli bacteria to lettuce cells tested by astronauts aboard the ISS.

Science teacher and program adviser Dan Weaver said that the spacecraft carrying the experiments detached from the International Space Station on Tuesday, Feb. 10 and would crash down into the Pacific Ocean sometime on Wednesday. The experiments would be sent back to the United States and then returned to the students as soon as Friday.

“We might not get it back until the weekend,” Weaver said, noting that the students would have to wait until Tuesday to complete an analysis due to the holiday weekend.

Since their experiment was sent to the International Space Station, the students have been mimicking it here on Earth.

Once the students analyze the results by comparing their control to the one sent to space, it will be up to them to decide what to do with their findings.

“We’re going to see how much E. coli attached to the lettuce,” Wriggins said.

She said this will be done by examining how much of the bacteria did not attach.

Weaver said the students and advisers are considering a trip to Washington, D.C. this summer for a convention at the Smithsonian where all the student participants from across the country would be invited to share their findings.

“Whatever the results we get, just the fact that something they designed was in orbit and on the International Space Station is amazing,” Weaver said.

He said the whole process has been exciting for both the students and the advisers.

After several delays and one explosion, the students were cautious, but excited to get their experiment back.

“It’s exciting because it’s been like a year and a half. Now it’s finally happening,” Bowersock said.

“It will be more exciting when we actually get it back,” Redmond added.

Last year, Ocean City was one of 18 schools from the US and Canada to be selected for participation in Mission 6. The students traveled to Wallops Island, Va. for the launch, which after being revised several times, was set for Oct. 27. That launch was delayed due to a boater in a restricted area, and set for Oct. 28. However, upon liftoff, the rocket carrying the spacecraft with supplies for the ISS and the student experiments exploded.

The students recreated their experiments and after a few more delays, the rocket carrying their experiment finally launched on Jan. 10 from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

In addition to Weaver, teachers Catherine Georges and Dave Uhrich, as well as director of curriculum Mikenzie Helphenstine served as advisers the students.

Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said Wednesday that the district is “thrilled” that the experiment made it to the ISS and is now on its way back to Ocean City.

“We are very proud of our students,” she said.

Taylor said that the level of scientific work done by the students, as well as the maturity in handling various scenarios, was impressive. She said she watched the students grow and gain a greater confidence throughout the process, which was “very rewarding for us.”

“That’s an added benefit that we didn’t anticipate with this, so that’s great,” she said.

Taylor said the district plans to capitalize on the efforts of the students to encourage an interest in science. Having the younger students interact with the high school students Wednesday was a way to carry on the momentum.

“This will generate excitement in these schools about science, about space exploration,” she said.

She said the district plans to hold a science fair and, in a few years, reapply for the SSEP.