The 'Bacteria Boys' are middle school STEM students with an experiment headed to space
The young scientists from Viera wanted to learn whether a component in horseshoe blood can detect bacteria in space. Judges selected the project to ride up in a SpaceX rocket to the ISS.
A group of Brevard County middle school students is eagerly awaiting the launch of a SpaceX rocket this week from the Kennedy Space Center.
The eighth-graders from Pinecrest Academy Space Coast, a STEM charter school in Viera, developed an experiment selected to travel to the International Space Station’s National Laboratory.
The light bulb went on after the students learned from a robotics teacher that limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL), a component in horseshoe crab blood, can detect bacterial contamination and is often used in vaccine research.
So, the team wants to see whether the blood can detect E. coli bacteria in the microgravity of space as it does on Earth.
“Astronauts could use it to see if a vaccine is contaminated in space, or if something in it is contaminated,” says Liam Hauser, one of the five young scientists, who call themselves the “Bacteria Boys.”
The project is one of 39 headed to the space station. It is part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program and partners with the National Center for Earth and Space Science and the International Space Station.
“They've really dedicated and committed fully to this project. And it has provided our students with an opportunity to find success in real world science applications,” says Consuelo Praetorius, director of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at the school.
Liam and his fellow “Bacteria Boys” — Connor Santore, Eric Distasi, Evan Ireland and Luke Costa — were among 12,859 students and 2,261 teams who proposed experiments for the program. Mentors from Charles River Laboratories in South Carolina guided the boys and supplied the needed materials.
According to the ISS National Laboratory, the experiment uses a fluid mixing enclosure called a Mixstix, a tube with three compartments separated by clamps. The first section holds 1 gram of dried E. coli, the middle section holds 1 gram of dried LAL and the last section contains a reagent—2 milliliters of distilled water.
Once in space, astronauts will add the water to the LAL before mixing it with the E. coli. At the same time on Earth, the “Bacteria Boys” will perform an identical investigation and compare the results. If the fluid turns a greenish or yellowish color, then the LAL will have detected the E. coli.
The team believes the results could help future astronauts because only a small amount of LAL is needed to detect bacterial contamination.
The unmanned SpaceX Dragon craft is scheduled to launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Complex 39A at 8:28 p.m. Thursday and arrive at the ISS on Saturday morning. It is SpaceX’s 29th commercial resupply mission to the ISS.