WELLSVILLE, NY – Six senior biology students at Wellsville Secondary School have soared to great new heights, after their science experiment was chosen to be conducted aboard the International Space Station.
The experiment is called “The Effect of Ascorbic Acid on Planarian Regeneration in Microgravity."
“Research has shown that long-term exposure to micro gravity results in a lot of negative health effects like loss of bone mass and muscle atrophy," said Tyler Watson, one of the six students involved in the project, who explained that research has shown Vitamin C may help mitigate that.
The experiment involves chopping up planaria, a type of flatworm with remarkable regenerative properties.
“They are kind of like the gold standard for regeneration,” said Watson. “So we are hoping that if the worms do re-grow faster after being exposed to the Vitamin C that maybe someday astronauts could use Vitamin C to help counteract the effects of long term space travel."
Wellsville’s submission was part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, through the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.
Their entry was made with assistance from WNY STEM.
But they weren’t alone.
Wellsville, where the average graduating class numbers just below 100 students according to Superintendent David Foster, was one of 2,000 schools from across the nation vying to have their experiments chosen.
“We were going against all we're these big schools with probably a lot more money than us, that have a lot more resources that they could put into this," said student Brandon Bailey.
“I considered that,” said their teacher Ross Munson, “and we started down this path not really having high expectations to get chosen.”
However, Munson wouldn’t the relative size and rural location of Wellsville deter the group in their quest.
“I don't look at our students as disadvantaged because of where we are and where they are. I set the bar, and set the expectation...then we put our best foot forward and tried the best we could."
The students began working on the project just after the start of the school year in September, and Munson was notified by email in December that their project had won.
"We just started running through the halls at school…we almost ran over a teacher,” said senior David Graham, in describing the excitement of the students when they got the news.
And among residents of this small Allegany County community, the students have become the talk of the town.
“They’ve really kind of embraced us…and sometimes when they see us they will tell us good job and congratulations,” said Bailey.
The students also plan to attend the launch of their experiment into space, tentatively scheduled for June 6 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
"It’s not going to feel real until we see the rocket go up," said Nichelle Danhiem, another of the students who participated in the project, along with her senior classmates Trinity Roulo and Shannon Nye.
One thing that is quite real, however, is a remarkable achievement by a group of students, and the pride their teacher has in them.
“What's really been so proud for me, is that I have been able to stand back and truly just guide them. They’re doing all the work,” said Munson.“They are very talented and highly motivated so it was the right group of kids to do something like this…and it was just truly pleasurable to watch them thrive."