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ATA 8th Graders’ Science Experiment Will Fly to Space Station

Arts & Technology Academy students’ microgravity research will be conducted by astronauts on International Space Station

Eugene middle and high school students have been aiming high, and now their work is going to launch. An experiment designed by local middle school students soon will fly to the International Space Station in low earth orbit to be conducted by astronauts in microgravity.

The international Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) will send student-designed microgravity experiments to the International Space Station (ISS) on Mission 9, expected to launch in summer 2016. An experiment designed by three students at Eugene’s Arts & Technology Academy will be part of the payload.

Eugene School District 4J’s Arts & Technology Academy, a neighborhood middle school with an innovative STEM-focused program, and Churchill High School, the only local high school to offer a full-scale pre-engineering program, have been participating in the hands-on space science program this year along with other schools in participating communities across the United States and Canada.

Students at ATA and Churchill have worked throughout the fall and winter to develop and refine meaningful, realistic proposals for microgravity research. Now, the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) has announced the finalist. The winning students’ experiment is headed for orbit.

Student project set to launch

The selected student experiment, “SLIPS in microgravity,” came out on top among proposals from more than 600 students at Arts & Technology Academy and Churchill High School. It will join the Mission 9 payload along with experiments from students in 20 other communities across the United States and Canada.

The “SLIPS in microgravity” experiment was designed by a team of three 8th grade students at Arts & Technology Academy. Team members Kobe Skidmore, Ray Newell and Garrett Price propose to test whether SLIPS — the world’s slipperiest substance, inspired by properties from the pitcher plant — has the same properties in a microgravity environment as it does on Earth. The SLIPS material makes a solid surface, once coated, so slippery that no liquid can touch the face of the solid. The student team hopes to determine whether the SLIPS material could lend itself to the future design and maintenance of space equipment.

More than 600 students from the two 4J schools participated in the space science program, submitting a total of 152 team proposals. Students’ proposed experiments were reviewed by a panel of local scientists, industry professionals and educators to determine a slate of top-notch experiment proposals which were then sent on to a national selection committee. The winning experiment will end up on the International Space Station being carried out by astronauts.


In addition to the finalist experiment that will be sent to the International Space Station, two semifinalists were named and a third proposal deserves honorable mention.

A semifinalist team of Churchill High School students and Arts & Technology Academy middle school students proposed “Salvia hispanica in microgravity” to see whether the chia seed (Salvia hispanica) could grow in microgravity. Churchill student team members were 12th grade students Daniel Campos, Alex Kanning, Miranda Thiesmeyer and Sophia Van Sell. Arts & Technology Academy student team members were 7th grade students Kylie Miles and Jacob Roach.

Another semifinalist proposal came from Churchill High School students Alexander Cordova, Aileen Hernandez Enriquez, Beau Scott, Sierra Squires, Brycen Spencer and Gabe Peterson-DeGroff. They proposed “Sea monkey astronauts—the life cycle of Artemia NYOS in microgravity.” The students sought to determine whether microgravity would impact brine shrimp strength and activity.

An experiment studying “The effects of microgravity on sodium acetate crystallization” is deserving of an honorable mention. The proposal was a semifinalist, but was eliminated due to an exothermic reaction (a chemical reaction that releases energy by light or heat) that could create a safety concern on the space station. The 8th grade student team from Arts & Technology Academy — students Salem Hennessy, Shanti Morrell and Will Stegall — sought to test whether sodium acetate crystallizes in microgravity, as it does on Earth. They hoped to determine whether the results could be used in space to treat astronauts in cases of muscle strain or injury.

Community support

Arts & Technology Academy and Churchill High School have been able to bring the SSEP experience to students in their STEM-focused programs thanks to the generous support of many local companies and community members from the Eugene–Springfield area and beyond. In fall 2015, the schools’ proposal to participate in the program was accepted, but funding was needed to cover the costs. Local technology firms, foundations and community members rallied to the call and contributed the $23,000 needed to make the program possible.

News reports about the community’s help launching the space science project:

About the SSEP program

The Student Space Flight Experiments Program (SSEP, ssep.ncesse.org) is an immersive program that was launched in 2010 by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE). It gives typically 300+ students across participating communities the ability to design and propose real microgravity experiments to fly in low Earth orbit on the International Space Station (ISS). The program was created to promote student learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

SSEP is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE, ncesse.org) in partnership with Nanoracks, LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.

About the schools

Arts & Technology Academy is both a neighborhood middle school and a state model STEM Lab School. Arts & Technology Academy students participate in scientific inquiry and project-based learning in all content areas using the design process. Teachers integrate reading, writing, mathematics and science curriculum to support problem-solving and critical-thinking skills with real-world challenges. Student elective choices include visual and performing arts, engineering, architecture, robotics, rocketry, green architecture, manual craft art, culinary science and chemistry and medical forensics. Student experiences at Arts & Technology Academy result in strong academic growth that prepares them for high school success and the continuation of their STEM studies and interests at Churchill High School, which serves students from the same neighborhood and beyond. For more information about Arts & Technology Academy, please visit ata.4j.lane.edu or call 541-790-5700.

Churchill High School offers a wide range of opportunities for students, including cutting-edge programs in STEM and career technical education (CTE), as well as an International Baccalaureate program through the Eugene International High School program co-located and integrated at Churchill. Students can explore or specialize in any one of five CTE academies: engineering, graphic design, health services, Rachel Carson environmental science program, and the West End Creative and Performing Arts Academy.For more information about Churchill High School, please visit chs.4j.lane.edu or call 541-790-5100.

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