By Ray Huard
Perseverance paid off for a Vista eighth-grader, who dreamed of sending a science experiment into space.
Thirteen-year-old Evie Currington is among five Vista Magnet Middle School students whose proposal to study the effects of microgravity on the regeneration of a type of flatworm was chosen to be included on a mission to the International Space Station later this year.
“I remember sitting in my chair when they announced it, it was amazing,” Evie said. “The whole day, I was just smiling.”
Principal Anne Green said the entire school erupted in a burst of celebration when the word came through that, for the second straight year, a Vista Magnet team’s experiment made the cut for a trip to the Space Station.
“I think the whole school was stamping their feet,” Green said. “I’m just beaming. I’m so proud of our girls.”
Working with Evie in designing the experiment were 7th grader Isabella Ansell, 12, and 6th-graders Sydney Wagner, Isabel Camacho, and Charlotte Currington, all 11. Charlotte is Evie’s sister.
They were competing against teams from Vista Innovation & Design Academy and High Tech High North County.
The Vista Magnet’s team was picked because their proposal was well documented, built on earlier research, and was aimed at ultimately solving a real-world problem – how to prevent astronauts from losing muscle and bone mass while working in the microgravity environment of the space station, said Dan Hendricks of Open Source Maker Labs, which oversaw the competition. “It was very thorough, all the way through,” Hendricks said.
The Vista Magnet students got advice on the project from Eva-Maria S. Collins, an assistant professor of physics and biology at the University of California San Diego. She is providing the worms for the experiment.
“It’s really cool,” Isabella said of her team’s success. “I always loved the idea of working with scientists up in space.”
Isabel said developing the experiment was “a really good learning experience, and my mom said it looks good on a college application.”
There was a time when Sydney wondered why people were so interested in outer space. “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to sit through a space movie,” Sydney said. “When I heard about the project, I thought, maybe this could get me interested.”
Now, she’s eager to see how the experiment turns out.
Charlotte said she was inspired by Evie and wanted to work with her. “It’s exciting,” Charlotte said of being part of the winning team. “It’s something that won’t happen every day. It’s good to think I get to see my experiment go up in space and see the results.”
Evie led the Vista Magnet team as the principal investigator.
As a sixth grader, Evie worked on a different proposal for a space station experiment involving flat worms, but that one fizzled.
The winning proposal in that competition came from three other Vista Magnet students – Karsyn Lee, Vitoria Arseneault and Lexie Kondo. Their experiment, which was sent to the space station last year aboard a Space X rocket, showed that organic strawberry seeds could germinate in microgravity.
Rather than give up, Evie worked with her new team to refine the experiment for the new competition. “I definitely learned to stick with things,” Evie said. Working on the Space Station experiments “opened my eyes to the sciences.”
“In fourth grade, I wanted to be a lawyer,” Evie said. “Then, I thought, maybe I don’t want to sit at a desk and write essays.” These days, her interests are leaning toward a career in science or engineering.
“I have no idea what type of science,” Evie said.
Her teammates have similar career choices in mind.
Isabella wants to become an astrophysicist, and said that one of the reasons she enrolled in Vista Magnet was because of its emphasis on science and math. She’d like to go to Princeton University because it has a strong astrophysics program and is hoping to work for NASA.
“I want to be part of the team that puts people on other planets,” Isabella said. “I want to be part of the Mars team.”
The experiment the team devised will send to the space station 10 headless Dugesia Japonica worms to see if they’ll grow new heads, as they do on Earth.
The worms will be in a 6-inch clear plastic tube containing water in one section and formalin, a preservative, in a second section.
After approximately three weeks on orbit, space station astronauts will release a clamp, allowing the preservative to mix with the water and worms.
The project is part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), which is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the use of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.