OLEAN — In the first year of the course being offered, Laura Kopec’s class at Olean High School has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity before them — to launch an experiment they designed over 240 miles into the sky.
By Thursday, the three-person class, consisting of seniors Grant Fox, Jasmine Franclemont-Frost and Alexys Freeman, will hear from judges from the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) after they choose three finalists from the Western New York region to have their experiment flown to the International Space Station (ISS) sometime in the spring.
Under Kopec’s guidance, Fox, Franclemont-Frost and Freeman designed a science experiment from scratch, examining the effects of microgravity on the speed of blood clot breakdown.
If chosen, the students’ will have their experiment’s hypothesis put to the test by astronauts in the International Space Station as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), sponsored by the NCESSE.
According to the group’s proposal, they believe astronauts will find blood clots break down slower in space than they do on Earth.
Kopec found out about this opportunity from a colleague last spring. When Kopec’s new class began in September, her students dove head first into research by designing their experiment, which more or less consists of a rubber tube, some proteins and cow blood that will be mixed together and observed over the course of a few days in space.
“I gave the kids a list of biological samples that were approved for use in space and they came up with this experiment on their own,” Kopec said.
On top of working on this project, the students in Kopec’s Introduction to Biotechnology class also have the chance to receive four credits through St. Bonaventure while also utilizing the university’s science labs.
Now in its seventh year, the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program’s goal is to empower students as scientists within the real-world context of science, which Kopec believes has proven to be successful.
“We chose to participate in this competition because it gives the opportunity for the students to conduct authentic research and get real-world application. The opportunity to get that in school is really important,” Kopec said.
This is a competitive project. According to a release by the NCESSE, there have been 13 SSEP flight opportunities which have flown 206 out over 16,261 proposed experiments to space. A total of 142 communities have participated in the program, reflecting 37 states as well as the District of Columbia, and four provinces in Canada.
This past Thursday, the group was honored by the WNY STEM Hub at Buffalo State College as Western New York regional finalists for the competition after beating out 10 other area projects. Currently, this Olean group is up against Wellsville and Lockport high schools.
“All the projects are interesting, but we think ours is the most practical,” Kopec said.
The students main focus is answering a question they say currently has no answer: should astronauts who may experience blood clots in space take different precautions than they would on Earth?
“There isn’t much information on the breakdown of blood clots in microgravity, so we thought it would be interesting to continue the research,” said Olean High School senior Alexys Freeman
On top of being able to say their experiment was flown to space, the students will also get the chance to watch it in person at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station if chosen to participate.
With Fox, Franclemont-Frost and Freeman only a few months away from graduation, Kopec says this project has been invaluable to their education.
“The skillset the students gain from this is so useful,” Kopec said. “They learn how to conduct research and write cohesive proposals in APA format. These are things they can use anywhere no matter what they’re doing.”
With a class of only three, the students have had to work tirelessly to make sure everything about their experiment is unmatched in quality. Franclemont-Frost and Freeman said staying after school to work on the experiment and working late into the night have made this project a lot more challenging and rewarding than what they previously experienced in school.
While the selected experiment can be fine-tuned after it’s selected, all that students can do now is wait to hear who will receive an opportunity that is truly out of this world.