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OU launches new student spaceflight experiment

Students with a knack for innovation, an affinity for space or questions about the universe will have the chance to create an experiment to potentially be sent to the International Space Station next spring. 

The opportunity is on behalf of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, or NCESSE, and is a part of the Mission 18 program. It will also be Ohio University's first year participating in this project.

Funding for OU’s contributions to the project is on behalf of the Provost’s office, Samantha Pelham, a university spokesperson, said. Additional funding is being raised for supplies and travel, according to a university news release

Sarah Wyatt, professor of molecular cellular biology and plant biology, serves as the director for OU’s branch of the project. 

Wyatt said there is no barrier to entering the program; students can join even without experience. 

The diversifying perspectives from varying majors give different outlooks in opinions and ideas when participating since it consists of team-based experiments, she said. 

“It's a real wide mesh ... because there's a role for everybody,” Wyatt said. “I mean, we don't need a whole bunch of scientists; you need a scientist or two, but there's going to be writing, there's going to be all kinds of things.”

There is a lab in Porter Hall set aside for the students involved to work on the project and test their experiments before submitting it for grant review, she said. 

Wyatt said the groups will be deliberately mixed so there is a wide range of varying majors and years. The groups will be comprised of 10 teams of three to five people in each, but each group will have one to two students studying biology. 

Victoria Swiler, a senior studying plant biology and a participant in the project, said she is most excited about learning to write a proposal.

“In the sciences, you need to be able to write a proposal, and learning from someone who’s actually written spaceflight experiment proposals and gotten them funded is probably really helpful in being able to do that,” Swiler said. 

Swiler said she has known Wyatt since she worked in Wyatt’s lab her freshman year, and her passion for spaceflight was one of the reasons that inspired her to participate in this project.

“(Also), learning or getting the chance to potentially have my own experiment flown was really exciting to me,” Swiler said.

Wyatt said students will be able to develop a broad range of real-life skills through the project, but above all, she hopes students find it to be an enjoyable and memorable experience.

“What I hope to see is the students enjoy the process,” Wyatt said. “This is one of those things that really is experiential learning. This is that piece of ‘I need to know X, we need to go find out X.’ It truly is a real-life situation. This process is exactly the process I use when I do research.”

Wyatt said the Student Spaceflight Experiment Project will launch late next spring—possibly after graduation—and she hopes this becomes a mainstay opportunity for OU students.

“I think they’ll continue with this program because it’s been a huge success, I mean we’re talking 30 to 40 groups around the U.S. and internationally that are proposing experiments,” Wyatt said. “And I think if we have a successful program here, the provost will probably continue to fund it.”


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