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Curriculum Update

Rochester City School District to send science experiment to space

Testing how lack of gravity affects seed germination, cellular biology and food production

Rochester, New York, students have some bragging rights when it comes to space exploration. East High School students in the Rochester City School District recently earned the opportunity to send their microgravity experiment to the International Space Station.

The experiment—which tests the role of microgravity in the production of chlorophyll—is one of 21 student projects that will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida this month. The program centers on experiments that test how lack of gravity affects things like seed germination, cellular biology and food production.

“If we colonize other planets, Mars for example, oxygen production will be important,” says Mary Courtney, the East High School chemistry teacher who filed the application for the program. This experiment is designed to test how microgravity affects phytoplankton chlorophyll deterioration rates.


Sidebar: How to participate in spaceflight experiments program


While in space, the phytoplankton samples will not be exposed to any light, but they will have nutrients. A spectrometer will measure chlorophyll levels.

The hypothesis is that microgravity will affect the decay rate of the chlorophyll. A control sample will remain on Earth.

The Student Spaceflight Experiment Program creates such opportunities. The program is run by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.

STEM, writing and ISS

The 7-year-old program meshes the principles of STEM and requires writing a compelling proposal. To date, nearly 75,000 students have been involved.

The program is open to all U.S. districts, colleges and universities. Each school must agree to get funding—in this case it was $24,000. Once a school is approved, students develop and write proposals for their microgravity experiments. Experiments must be approved by local and national review teams.

Fun fact

The ISS was visible, flying overhead in the sky, for Rochester area residents for about two weeks in July.

To date, 206 experiments, out of nearly a total of 1,400 proposals, have been selected for flight.

David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, says the program is about students being able to participate and organize, build community support, build a team, find funding and learn to describe the work they plan to do before they do it.

“These are real issues in practicing science,” Evans says.


Shawna De La Rosa is a freelance writer in California.