Chandler Park Academy science teacher Christopher Trepanowski, left, discusses with students Katyra Waller and Aaron Jackson the results of the experiment that they had taken into space last month.

Chandler Park Academy science teacher Christopher Trepanowski, left, discusses with students Katyra Waller and Aaron Jackson the results of the experiment that they had taken into space last month.

Photo by Brendan Losinski


Chandler Park Academy students examine results of experiment taken into space

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published January 24, 2021

 Four Chandler Park Academy students designed an experiment involving cherry tomato seeds that was taken into space by NASA. They got the results back Jan. 20.

Four Chandler Park Academy students designed an experiment involving cherry tomato seeds that was taken into space by NASA. They got the results back Jan. 20.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

HARPER WOODS — On Dec. 6, an experiment designed by four students at Chandler Park Academy in Harper Woods was taken into space by NASA as part of the 14th National Center for Earth and Space Science Education’s Student Spaceflight program.

The students got the results back Jan. 20 and were excited to talk about the experience.

“It was crazy, because when I was a kid, I never wanted to be an astronaut, and now I’m in class and we find out we won, out of everyone in the district, and that something we made would go into space,” remarked 11th grader Aaron Jackson, one of the experiment designers.

“When I found out our team won, I was so happy,” added fellow designer Katyra Waller. “It was a good experience. To be chosen from Chandler Park was very big for us, because you don’t hear about a lot of African American students taking part in these kinds of things.”

Jackson and Waller were joined by their teammates Martinez Jordan and Kendal Snow in creating the experiment that compared how cherry tomato seeds would grow in microgravity compared to how they would grow on Earth.

“This project was essentially to send our experiment to space to see if cherry tomatoes would germinate in microgravity, and then compare the results to our results on the ground,” said Waller. “They told us what we could do, and we decided this was a good choice since the experiment was smaller, so it was effective to grow in space. Tomato seeds were a good choice compared to larger seeds.”

The students examined the results, which returned to Earth Jan. 13. They discovered some unexpected findings.

“When you look at a regular seed, they look very plain, but these have crystals on the side of them. You see the seed getting ready to sprout,” said Jackson.

In fact, the experiment had results totally different than what the students initially expected.

“We’re finding that, surprisingly, the experiment that was sent off into space germinated more compared to the one on the ground. You would think, because it’s in microgravity, it would be more difficult for the seeds to grow,” explained Waller. “The atmosphere could be a possibility to why it germinated more in space. We could do more experiments on the ground to see if that was a factor, since you need a temperature of at least 75 degrees (Fahrenheit) for them to germinate correctly, and astronauts have a much more controlled environment.”

Audrey Richardson, Chandler Park Academy’s district science coordinator, was one of the staff members mentoring the students during the experiment. She said that giving students such opportunities is a key part of education, and she hopes its success will encourage other educators to use more hands-on projects such as this one.

“We realized the importance of doing hands-on experiments with students, where they can see science in real time, learn of the challenges and how to overcome them, and find new ways to solve problems. We wanted to get kids accustomed to not only (science, technology, engineering and math), but also the struggle of STEM ideas as well,” said Richardson. “There should be more programs like this, and in different areas as well. There should be biology, physics, in all branches of science and math, and even in social studies.”

Such programs, said Richardson, teach students more than simply what they are experimenting on.

“This experiment was selected out of 300 students, so it taught a lot of collaboration,” she said. “Each person on each team had a different role. It taught them to communicate and work with experts. It taught them to design the patches that went along with the project. It taught them a lot about science, about its challenges and coming up with ways to overcome them.”

Her advice to students was to think of science not as a process of going from A to B, but rather a series of trials, setbacks and successes.

“Don’t be afraid,” Richardson said. “Part of failure is success. It took George Washington Carver more than 300 failures before he created peanut butter. So there is a lesson to be learned from taking failures, tweaking it, and finding a way to succeed.”

“It is so powerful that our students are able to take their learning from the classroom and apply it to the real world. We are so fortunate to be a part of the NASA project and to continue to provide our students with rich learning experiences, even during the pandemic,” added Chandler Park Academy High School Principal Brian Ericson.

Jackson hopes their achievement will inspire younger students to try new things.

“You can spark another student’s brain to try and do what you are doing. Kids look up to people in older grades. Say a fifth grader looks at me in the 11th grade, and they might think, ‘I want to do that when I get older,’” he said. “If you think it’s cool, go for it. It might be something you could make a career out of and be successful at.”