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JM project reaches outer space

Tuesday, 04 September 2018 22:11 Written by  Jeanette Todd

After a fairly quiet summer, work heated up again last week, as the team got their experiment back from the International Space Station (yes, that one). The experiment, an opportunity to show how broccoli grows in zero-gravity conditions, was taken to the ISS in June to incubate.
Once again, the girls entered energetic work-mode: Every inch of their review was done with precision, protocol--and cameras recording. This provided another great start to their second school year at John Muir, and may have brought back memories regarding how they reached this point…
John Muir made the exciting announcement at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. The school had been selected to participate in the Student Science Experiment Program. John Muir was just one of 32 schools from across the entire nation, Canada and Brazil selected. The program kicked off with a mission patch contest and an assembly during which students were linked with SSEP and could ask direct questions.
The patch winner was selected and teams worked hard to perfect experiments that could meet the challenge. The entire school’s student body was mobilized. They formed the basis for their experiments, sought professional mentors to help guide them and wrote up their notes and goals for their work.
As it turned out, four unassuming, and hardworking, sixth grade girls saw their experiment rise to the top. Under the leadership of teacher Alex Dias, Laisha Fernandez, Angelica Medina, Montserrat Maldonado and Lupita Nunez formed a core idea: how would broccoli grow in space? It was a great question, since we earthlings appear to be on the cusp of advanced space exploration and those adventurers will know what types of nutritious foods they may have to depend upon.
They sought Beau Howard, an agronomist with the J.G. Boswell Company, to provide expertise in putting together the experiment. Weeks of preparation saw their experiment reach the next level: a team of judges determined which experiment would best be suited for completion in a pair of diverse environments.
And four John Muir sixth grade girls were on their way to outer space.
But not quite yet. The experiment had to be completed and put together in a mini-lab. That term is no exaggeration. The mini lab is about the size of a large cigar. They had to finish two concurrently: one that would remain at the school and one that would launch to the ISS.
Once the implementation and data were completed, the team had to meet a deadline to send off their precious cargo. It traveled across the county first, all the way to Florida and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Launch date was June 6. That was scrapped. So were potential launches June 9 and 19. The experiment finally hitched a ride on Space X-15 June 29. It remained on board, accompanied by 31 additional student experiments, before returning to earth on a rocket for splashdown just off the Pacific Coast.
Now it’s back and there is much work to be completed. With calipers, tweezers and microscopes handy, the girls are busy comparing the two broccoli growths. They are checking for roots and sprouts, and how many of their seeds have germinated.
All is being carefully recorded, both on the page and by camera. This will form the bulk of their presentation when they travel to Washington, D. C. next summer to present their findings. This august meeting will take place at the Smithsonian Space and Aeronautics Museum in Washington, D. C., where SSEP will host its national conference.
Dave Whitmore, principal at John Muir, is determined to make sure the girls gain the honor of such a prestigious trip. He will be working all year to help with fundraising.
“I just cannot be more proud of these girls,” he said. “These four young ladies did such a great job. They will make great scientists!”

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