Three DSU finalist have been chosen to send experiment into space

A group of students at Delaware State University are competing to be the first in the school’s history to send an experiment to the International Space Station.

The opportunity presented itself when the university decided to participate in the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program, a national STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) initiative. It is supported by DSU’s Optical Science Center for Applied Research and funded by NASA, the National Science Foundation, Department of Education and the Department of Defense.

“It’s available to schools nationwide but most of them are not able to take advantage of it – one reason being that it’s kind of expensive,” said Matt Bobrowsky, the professor leading DSU’s participation and the director of special programs at the College of Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Technology. “But we were fortunate in receiving some funding from DSU’s optics center.”

The project costs $23,000. That pays for the preparation required to send the experiment into space.

Student Joshua Patterson’s team is hoping to get there by asking “Does microgravity affect the drug tolerance of Streptococcus pyogenes?”

“We are testing to see whether microgravity will affect the drug tolerance of strep throat,” Patterson said. “If a person gets sick up in space you want to see if our drugs are actually going to cure them.”

Two other teams are in the running. Jinghao “Joe” Qiao and Xiaojao Song want to test germination and Daniel McCluskey is looking at microgravity’s effect on rice.

In the beginning there were 23 DSU students, divided into 11 teams, vying for a spot on the launch expected in November. Students submitted proposals describing their project and how it would be important. The proposals were examined by a DSU review panel. The university chose three finalists. Those proposals moved on to a review board at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

A national winner will be announced at the end of May, said Bobrowsky.

In order to win, an experiment has to meet safety requirements and require minimal intervention from astronauts. It has to have a high chance of success and answer the research questions it was designed to address, according to Bobrowsky.

“It’s different from the typical school science project,” he said. “The students are becoming scientists, real scientists in every way.”