Chandler Park Academy student Katyra Waller is one of four students from the school who designed a science experiment as part of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education’s Student Spaceflight program.

Chandler Park Academy student Katyra Waller is one of four students from the school who designed a science experiment as part of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education’s Student Spaceflight program.

Photo provided by Christopher Trepanowski


Chandler Park Academy students have experiment taken into space

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published December 20, 2020

 Science teacher Christopher Trepanowski, far left, helps Aaron Jackson and Waller.

Science teacher Christopher Trepanowski, far left, helps Aaron Jackson and Waller.

Photo provided by Christopher Trepanowski

HARPER WOODS — Students at Chandler Park Academy in Harper Woods have the rare honor of an experiment they designed being blasted into space and performed by astronauts.

The experiment to test how microgravity could affect how tomatoes grow was part of the 14th National Center for Earth and Space Science Education’s Student Spaceflight program. During each flight, experiments designed by students across the United States are included on space missions where astronauts perform the experiments according to the students’ specifications.

The Chandler Park Academy students were split into teams with each team designing an experiment. Audrey Richardson, the school’s K-12 science coordinator, said the winning experiment came from four students from the science class of Christopher Trepanowski.

The experiment was selected out of competition both from other Chandler Park Academy students and students from schools around the country.

“After the research proposals were turned in and reviewed, the first of two boards to review them and score them based on the Student Space Flight Education Program (took place here at Chandler Park Academy),” explained Richardson. “They selected the top three proposals and submitted them, where they were reviewed by a second board from the Student Spaceflight program, which selected those that would be sent up to the International Space Station. One of our high school teams had their experiment selected.”

The students who designed the winning experiment were Aaron Jackson, Katyra Waller, Martinez Jordan and Kendal Snow.

“The title of the experiment is ‘The Effect of Microgravity on Cherry Tomato Germinations,’” said Trepanowski. “They wanted to see if there was a difference when the seeds start to sprout on these tomatoes. The students were thinking of possible trips to Mars, where astronauts might have to grow their own foods, and tomatoes are a good food to look at since it can be made into different types of foods and can be grown in a small space.”

Part of the appeal of the program, said Trepanowski, was that students got to work with real researchers to see how they design experiments and analyze results.

“Some of our students were in contact with researchers all over the world,” he said. “They went through trials to make sure the trial would work and everything was prepared. One of the limitations of the experiment was that it had to take place all in a tiny tube the size of a straw.”

“It provides firsthand pathways for students to act like scientists by conducting research, problem-solving and writing proposals,” added Richardson. “They could access Google Scholars and ask experts questions about their research, so they were exposed to people who are experts in different fields of science.”

The experiment in space will be duplicated by the Chandler Park Academy students on the ground.

“The experiments arrived at the International Space Station on Dec. 6, and the astronauts will complete the experiments as written by the students,” said Richardson. “Meanwhile, the students will perform the experiments on the ground so the two can be compared.”

She added that this is real research that could aid NASA in developing new methods of sustaining astronauts for long periods in space.

“The ultimate goal for the students was to ask how they could add to a question like tomato seed germination and find solutions about how tomatoes can be better grown in space, and see if they can be used agriculturally or medicinally,” she said. “This could be important for missions like going to Mars, where astronauts would need to be in space for months or years at a time.”

Trepanowski said it was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students.

“These are students who can call themselves true microgravity researchers with a test that has been performed in space,” he remarked. “It’s a very cool experience for a student.”