Thibodaux STEM Magnet students’ experiment on the effects of antibiotics on bacteria in space is still a go for launch aboard a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station in the spring.
Students Paul Pryor, the team’s project manager, and Nicholas Meadows, programming assistant, traveled to Valley Christian School in San Jose, California, a school that has experience in sending experiments to the space station, to have their project pass a progress check.
The two are part of a team of about 20 middle and high school students at the Lafayette academy who worked to get the experiment ready for the test.
“We went to show them what we have so far, and programming wise, they said we’re where we need to be,” said Meadows, a senior.
The experiment will test the effects of bacteria in space and its reactions to antibiotics. Lafayette’s Thibodaux STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — Academy is one of 11 schools selected to be part of a space program organized by Quest Institute for Quality Education in San Jose, and NanoRacks, a space hardware and software services company that has a contract with NASA and offers payload space for educational and private research.
The experiment fits inside a plastic box that’s just a bit bigger than a stick of butter and holds a camera, LED light, onboard computer and the bags that will hold parts of the bacteria and antibiotics.
During the California visit, the team also received guidance from technology experts.
“One of the guys we met was the developer of Sega, and one was the developer of the Intel Pentium processor. We also met someone who worked on the space shuttle program,” Pryor said.
The team received a boost of confidence from the experts, who were impressed with the team’s work, said Nicolette Darjean, the director of Thibodaux’s engineering academy.
“They were blown away by Paul building his own circuit board,” Darjean said. “Nick was told that the programming was above and beyond all the other teams.”
The visit also revealed that the team needed to regroup on some issues — like changing the plastic bags they had planned to use to hold parts of the experiment.
Previously, the team made its bags out of plastic — similar to the plastic used for page protectors, but the plastic has the potential to kill the bacteria over time, the experts told the team.
“We’re now focused on bags and biology and to get flight ready,” Pryor said.
The team is working to make the bags out of vinyl. A change in the bag material means retesting how the bacteria will react in the vinyl, said Shelly Barnaba, a junior leading the biomedical team.
The team’s final hand-off of the experiment was moved up two weeks, meaning the team will have to put in extra time on the project when they return to school from the holiday break, which begins Monday.
“When they come back, these same students are on our robotics team, and they’ll be preparing for that competition,” Darjean said.
It’ll be a busy time but worth it, students said.
Meanwhile, fundraising is also part of the project, and Darjean is working to help ensure that the entire team can travel to Florida to witness what few — particularly a group of teenagers — have had the opportunity to do: Watch their work launch into space.
“I want them all to be able to have that experience,” Darjean said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.