Algae project jetting into space

Traverse City West Senior High School teacher Patrick Gillespie holds up a tube that experiments sent into space must be contained in. A group of four of his students are sending algae into space.

TRAVERSE CITY — The brainchild of four Traverse City West Senior High School students will be sent up to space.

Robbie Lohr, Ryan Hayes, Sam Church, and Hayden Holmes, all 10th grade students in honors chemistry, designed an experiment that tests how algae grows in near-zero gravity.

Their project was selected from more than 200 proposed by West Senior High students as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program in which student projects are sent to the International Space Station. The experiments are supposed to be carried out in microgravity and on Earth.

The students' project is contained in a tube roughly the size of a pencil.

The students learned about the algae, which can be used for oxygen, fuel and food, in a book. They'd like to see the algae grow better in near-zero gravity than on the ground.

"Our hope for this project is that it will have a greater growth in space so that in the future when we do grow this it'll have better chances for survival up in space," Holmes said.

The team spent a lot of time researching the right kind of algae. They needed to find one that could grow in the dark. They called ocean, algae and microbacteria experts before submitting their project. They eventually settled on Neochloris oleoabundans, an algae found on the ocean floor.

The project also had to require a minimum amount of work from astronauts on the space station.

"Once it's up in space, the astronauts unclamp it and shake and then they let it sit up there and see what it does," Lohr said.

The student team members said they were excited to learn their project will join the 21 other national winners jetting into space in the spring. The team didn't initially expect to come up with a winning project.

"At first we were kind of doing it to get a good grade and have a fun time," Hayes said. "Then we realized our project could actually go somewhere and we started working on it much harder."

The project won out over two other top projects at the Traverse City school that compared water and oil interaction and human cell growth.

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