East Lyme students' experiment to fly to Space Station

The sixth-grade students who participated in the experiment for the International Space Station are, from left, Maddie Fraser, Ritisha Ande, Ethan Novick, Ethan Moore. (photo submitted)
The sixth-grade students who participated in the experiment for the International Space Station are, from left, Maddie Fraser, Ritisha Ande, Ethan Novick, Ethan Moore. (photo submitted)

A science experiment created within the labs of East Lyme Middle School will soon travel all the way to outer space.

The work of a team of East Lyme students will be onboard a rocket slated to fly later this year to the International Space Station as part of the national Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics initiative.

Sixth graders Ritisha Ande, Maddie Fraser, Ethan Moore and Ethan Novick were selected as the winning team from the middle school, after designing an experiment to test whether a biofilm would form differently in space than it does on earth.

Their experiment, along with those from about 21 other communities across the country, will fly on Mission 9 of the national Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.

The students were thrilled when they heard the announcement of their win on the morning news show at school.

“We were screaming and crying at the same time,” said Maddie.

The students will travel to Cape Canaveral in Florida to see the rocket carrying their experiment lift off and to have lunch with an astronaut. They will later present the results of their experiment at a conference at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Fifth and sixth graders at the middle school had designed science experiments that would test how an experiment performed on earth compared to how it would perform under conditions of microgravity at the space station, according to a news release from the school. A panel selected a smaller group of teams at a “Race to Space” night at the middle school last fall. The teams were then judged by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in Washington, D.C.

In a recent interview, the students, who are in the middle school’s Neptunes Kiva group, talked about their experiment and their future plans.

According to their proposal, the team is testing if a biofilm from the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis would form differently on a catheter in space, under the conditions of microgravity, than on earth. The results of the experiment could shed light on information NASA could take into consideration for the health of astronauts, or information on bacteria that scientists and doctors could consider to improve catheters and reduce infections.  

“...if the biofilm grows thinner on a rat artery catheter in microgravity, then we will know that the risk of getting the Staphylococcus epidermidis infection will be less for astronauts that need to get catheters on the space station,” their proposal states. “Our group thinks that this could be vital if this experiment works because the astronauts are trained to insert catheters. If the biofilm is thicker in microgravity, [then] we now know to give antibiotics with catheter administration. If the biofilm blocks the fluids from passing in and out of the body, then it can severely hurt or kill people. This could be very serious. If this experiment works, NASA could look further into this experiment and maybe change how things are normally done if a person gets a catheter inserted into them....”

The team said the science experiment could have implications for a problem people suffer with every day and inspire NASA to conduct further research.

“This could directly affect the health of astronauts on the space station,” said Deborah Galasso, their science teacher and advisor at East Lyme Middle School.

The students worked with their mentor, Dr. Carrie Northcott, a scientist at Pfizer. Dr. Jiri Aubrecht and Northcott are assisting with analyzing the experiment at Pfizer.

At the beginning, the students were faced with delving into a subject that was unfamiliar to them.

“We did a ton of research, and now we’ve become experts on the subject,” said Ethan Moore.

The students said they enjoy the hands-on work they do in science and plan to pursue the subject in the future.

“I like doing all the experiments and labs,” said Ethan Novick.

Ritisha Ande pointed out that during science students get to work on projects that involve playing with an egg or experimenting with bacteria.

“It’s different from the other subjects,” she said. “It’s really cool.”

This is the second time the middle school has participated in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. SSEP is an initiative of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education, according to its website.

In addition to the microgravity experiment, more than 200 students, from kindergarten to grade 12, also competed to create mission patches, according to the news release. Nikki Hahn, a sixth-grader at East Lyme Middle School, and Gianni Vora and Adam Sheriff, third-graders at Niantic Center School, won that competition.

The team from the Neptunes Kiva is fundraising for a trip to Cape Canaveral to see the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and to attend the SSEP conference at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Those who wish to donate can send donations to East Lyme Middle School at 31 Society Road in East Lyme. Checks can be made out to East Lyme Middle School with a note on the memo line stating that the donation goes to SSEP.

k.drelich@theday.com

Ethan Novick and Ritisha Ande work on an experiemnt at school that will be taken to the International Space Station. (Photo submitted)
Ethan Novick and Ritisha Ande work on an experiemnt at school that will be taken to the International Space Station. (Photo submitted)
Ritisha Ande, left, Ethan Novick and Ethan Moore works with Dr. Carrie Northcott, their mentor from Pfizer Inc. (photo submitted)
Ritisha Ande, left, Ethan Novick and Ethan Moore works with Dr. Carrie Northcott, their mentor from Pfizer Inc. (photo submitted)

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