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April 28, 2013

Traverse City West students' experiment destined for space

TRAVERSE CITY — A science experiment designed by Traverse City West Senior High School students is headed to the International Space Station.

Tenth grade honors chemistry students Haley Dole, Paxton Ellul and Ashley Miller designed an experiment to explore how antibiotics work in zero gravity. Judges from Washington-based Student Spaceflight Experiments Program chose to send their experiment to the ISS from among 125 experiments proposed by West students.

"We wanted to do an experiment that benefits astronauts," Miller said. "If they get infections in space hopefully this can help."

Miller, Ellul and Dole will pack up bacteria, antibiotics and a growth medium for delivery to the ISS by a SpaceX spacecraft. Astronauts on board will spend six weeks measuring the effectiveness of the antibiotics in a zero-gravity environment. The students will perform the same experiment on Earth and then compare their results with the results from the ISS.

The ISS has orbited around the Earth more than 57,000 times since its 2000 launch. It has logged more than 1.5 billion miles on its odometer, the equivalent of eight round-trips to the sun. It's manned by an international team of astronauts who carry out various biology, physics and astronomy experiments.

Patrick Gillespie, a chemistry and physics teacher at West, organized the participation of nearly 600 West students in the SSEP. Students gain valuable first-hand knowledge about technology, math, science and engineering through designing and developing the experiments, Gillespie said.

"In those areas there's a big drive in the U.S. today to make people work-force ready," he said. "People graduating with chemistry degrees are getting snatched up like that and making big bucks."

The experiment's launch date, originally scheduled for May, was pushed back to September and now isn't expected until November.

"It's hard to wait, but that's space for you," Gillespie said. "There are lots of different factors and you can't just go up whenever."

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