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Lift-off for the betterment of high school science

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pictured is the Space Shuttle Atlantis as it launches from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida during it's previous mission in 2010. Photo contributed
Ridge View student project accompanies Space Shuttle

HOLSTEIN - A science project prepared by several Ridge View students and teachers launched on the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on June 8.

Several of the students and teachers traveled to Florida to watch the launch of the project that consumed much of their effort over the past few months.

Eleven schools across the United States were selected to participate in the Student Spaceflight Program (SSEP) and Ridge View made the cut. The SSEP gave students in grades 5-12 from the selected schools the rare opportunity to research, design and propose real experiments to fly aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on its farewell mission.

Last spring, Jim Christensen, a NASA employee based out of Holstein, gave a presentation on microgravity to the Ridge View student body. He enlightened all of the students with the opportunity to create an experiment to fly on Atlantis, and a few students took advantage of the spectacular opportunity.

After vigorous hours of brainstorming, research and hard work, students from the Ridge View high school and middle school completed 17 proposals and presented them to a panel of judges from the Ridge View School area that possessed great amounts of scientific knowledge. The judges collaborated and voted to select three of the 17 proposals. The proposals were then sent to be reviewed by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

A committee from the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education evaluated the proposals and chose one of them to fly on the Atlantis Mission.

After much discussion, the committee selected the following experimental proposal: "How does microgravity affect the growth rate of tardigrades?" Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are microscopic exoskeleton bugs that dwell in water environments.

This proposal was the creation of seven Ridge View High School students. The students who had a hand in the project were Taylor Radke, Isaac Jepsen, Michael Perrett, Austin Hayden, Jacob Biddle, Dana Hustedt and Gretchen Kistenmacher. Patty Wheeler and Art Witten, who both contribute to the science program at Ridge View High School, guided the students as the students worked on their proposals. Jim Christensen also gave tips to the ambitious student researchers.

While one set of tardigrades is on the shuttle, another set will be at Ridge View High School to serve as a control for the experiment. When the Space Shuttle Atlantis returns, the students will retrieve the tardigrades that spent 12 days in microgravity and compare them to the ones that were left on Earth for the 12 days to study how the microgravity affected the growth of the tiny creatures.

The effort was sponsored by John Pappajohn, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rockwell Collins, Ida County Economic Development, Ida County Extension, Northwest AEA, Iowa Space Center, Iowa Math and Science Education, and First Cooperative Association.

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