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Teen Winners Emerge in YouTube Space Station Experiment Contest

The International Space Station will soon welcome student experiments from a YouTube competition. Photo Credit/NASA and ESA

Bacteria and Spiders may seem like an unwelcome combination. But put them tegether with some astronauts aboard the International Space Station and something quite fascinating is bound to happen.

So figured  Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma, both 16 of Troy, Mich., and Amr Mohammed, 18, of Alexandria, Egypt.

Though miles apart on the Earth, their entries in YouTube’s Space Lab contest  united them as finalists in a competition to find the best student devised space experiments.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams announced their winning entries in Washington D. C. on Mar. 22. She is preparing to lift off for the space station on July 15 for a five to six-month mission. During her stay, Williams and her crewmates will carry out the student experiments.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams aboards the space shuttle Discovery in 2006. Photo Credit/NASA/KSC

“I definitely want to pursue science as a career. I don’t see myself as doing anything else,” Chen explained in a YouTube clip.

Dorothy Chen, left, and Sara Ma sample weightless aboard a Zero G flight. Image Credit/Detroit News and YouTube

She and Ma are sending the bacteria. Recent research suggests that some strains of bacteria grow more virulent in the absense of gravity. Commercial research teams plan to develop vaccines based on the research, including one to fight Salmonella.

The two Troy, Mich., teens hope to go in a similar direction by identifying nutrients and compounds that may reverse the virulence trend of some microbes.

“We wanted to do something that would impact the human race,” explained Ma.

Mohammed was struck by the behavior of Zebra spiders. On Earth, they pounce on their prey, rather than trapping them in webs.

How will the Zebras feed in space when they are weightless? Will the Zebra spiders adapt?

Amr Mohammed will study Zebra spider behavior. Image Credit/YouTube and Redorbit

“My friends say I’m a little quirky,” the 18-year-old explained in a YouTube clip.  “I would say they are a little bit right. The possibility of sending an experiment to space is the most exciting thing that I’ve heard of in my life.”

Initiated in October, the You Tube competition drew hundreds of contestants from more than 80 countries. 

A team of judges, including William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration Mission Directorate, and

Leland Melvin, the associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Education and a  former astronaut, selected 60 finalists.

YouTube turned to an online audience to narrow down the finalists based on internet presentations developed by the student contestants.

The finalists gathered in Washington to see the sights and meet met with members of Congress as well as participate in a Zero-G training flight.

“It doesn’t matter what language we speak, or where we came from,” observed one finalist. “We just all came together because we all like space. It’s great.”



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