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Keenan High students design experiment to be performed in space

An experiment created by Keenan High School ninth grade students Cedric McQueen, Parker Matthews and Tevin Glover will be performed by astronauts on the International Space Station this spring. The experiment will involve the movement of starches in microgravity.
An experiment created by Keenan High School ninth grade students Cedric McQueen, Parker Matthews and Tevin Glover will be performed by astronauts on the International Space Station this spring. The experiment will involve the movement of starches in microgravity. tdominick@thestate.com

A trio of Keenan High School students went above and beyond to devise an experiment that has never been done. And now, their work is going above and beyond – Earth, that is.

This spring, astronauts on the International Space Station will conduct an experiment designed by Keenan ninth-graders Tevin Glover, Parker Matthews and Cedric McQueen that could have implications for potential future life in space.

Theirs is one of 21 experiments created by students nationwide that will be tested in space this spring as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.

“I’m excited. Ready to get it to space and see the results,” McQueen said.

The experiment will test how microgravity, or the condition of apparent weightlessness, affects the mixing of starch and water.

Starch and water solutions are important because starch is used by plants to store energy needed to grow. The concentration of a starch solution is what enables a plant to respond to gravity and grow roots downward.

We know how starch and water mix here on Earth, but the question is how that will change in space in the near absence of gravity.

The experiment aims to answer that question by way of a fairly simple procedure: mixing starch and water in a tube and measuring their concentration in space.

“You don’t have to overthink it,” Glover said.

The results of the test could be significant in furthering the understanding of plant growth in space, which could be a step toward sustaining human life in space, the students said.

“It seems like a really simple project, but the implications are important,” said Kirstin Bullington, the students’ science teacher. “In science, it doesn’t have to be the most complex (idea). It just has to be something that hasn’t been done before.”

The boys, all 14 years old, brainstormed and designed their experiment in Bullington’s physical science and biology class. Teams of 624 students at Keenan and fifth-graders at Greenview Elementary all competed for selection for the Student Spaceflights Experiments Program.

Glover, Matthews and McQueen have some time to fine-tune their experiment before their materials are sent to the space station sometime this spring, likely in May. They expect to have the results returned to them for analysis around the time they return to school in August.

The students said they’re excited to have had their experiment chosen and are eager to get the results.

Each has a special interest in science and math and continuing innovations, but each said they would prefer to do those things on the ground rather than in space.

“That’s what we have astronauts for,” Matthews said.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

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