To the stars: Nanaimo students see their science project launched into space

By Spencer Sterritt
July 11, 2018 - 11:14pm Updated: July 12, 2018 - 5:47pm

Grade 11 students Megan Poteryko, Abigail Sitler and Parker Davie sent their project where no Nanaimo project has gone before.Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools

Dover Bay students Katrin Hannesson, Erin Burnley, Maija Dutton, Maelanie Devjayanth and Leslie Therriault at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.submitted/Dave Dutton

NANAIMO — Most high school science experiments are heavily controlled and done in the classroom with expected results. But a new project ended up with three students heading down to Cape Canaveral in Florida to watch their science experiment be launched into space.

Grade 11 student Parker Davie watched from the bleachers as the rocket took off in what he said was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“It's so bright and so loud,” he said of watching the rocket take off to its destination at the International Space Station. “All the bleachers were shaking. It's a pretty crazy experience.”

Davie, Abigail Sitler and Megan Poteryko, all Nanaimo District Secondary School students, spent roughly 100 hours designing their experiment to test how the muscles on flatworms would fare in zero-gravity. Their results will then be used to find out the best ways to keep astronauts muscles from atrophying when they're aboard the space station.

Poteryko said it was incredible to see all of their hardwork pay off as their experiment rocketed towards the stars.

They were in competition with schools across the district to create an experiment which NASA would approve and launch into space.

Poteryko said it was a grueling scientific experiment which also required them to think outside the box and apply more than just math.

“You incorporate English too because you have to write this huge proposal. So it's definitely cool to see how all these different subjects can come together in this one project,” she said.

Sitler said she was in disbelief the whole time because no student thinks they'll actually have a chance to see a high school science experiment be so well-received from top scientific minds from across the world.

Their project will be tested on the space station for roughly a month before it comes back down to Earth. Once it's back, they'll analyze the results at Vancouver Island University, write another paper and then hopefully present it to astronauts and scientists at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. next summer.

Their project was the only one who went to space.

However, the runner-up project still had a chance to present at the Smithsonian in June, talking to scientists about their experiment on flatworms to see how a specific bacteria common on Earth affects the often compromised immune system of astronauts.

Science teacher Dave Dutton, who teaches at Dover Bay Secondary, said his students had a fantastic experience travelling to Washington D.C. and it stoked their love of science and desire to do more research.

“It puts it all together and gets the kids to do real world science, not the type of normal lab we do in the classroom where we know the results. This is science where it's unknown what you're going to find and often what you find isn't what you expected.”

He said the best experience of the trip was seeing the Smithsonian Museum and being able to show his five Dover Bay students what real science looks like.

Only one other science experiment from Canada was aboard the rocket bound for the International Space Station, joining roughly 30 other projects from across the United States.


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