What do contact lenses, spam and sheep’s blood have in common?

They’re central ingredients in three separate science experiments that Lincoln Middle School students have designed in a competition that will end with one of the projects being sent to the International Space Station for further study.

A six-week process that started with students learning about physical forces reached an important point earlier this month as judges whittled down about 80 proposals to three finalists.

It’s all part of the interdisciplinary Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, which is organized through the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education. The initiative is meant to foster interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) while promoting collaboration and critical thinking.

“It’s real science, and it’s writing to a real audience,” said program co-organizer Gretchen Gies-McLaughlin, an English teacher at Lincoln. “A lot of what happens in an academic classroom sometimes doesn’t succeed because there isn’t any real-world application. These students have a chance to write for a real audience and have an experiment on the International Space Station.”

Eighth-grade students Savannah Yassin and Weston MacWilliams crafted an experiment about the effects of microgravity on the clotting of sheep’s blood when mixed with cornstarch. Their team also includes Emily Chase, Makenna Gaeta and Owen Halpert.

Another group, led by Aidan Blain and Daisy Billington, built a project to study the effect of microgravity on the deterioration of contact lenses. Chloe Forssell, Emma Guerrini-Romano and Colin Wu round out the team.

The effect of microgravity on the preservation of spam using lemon juice is the subject of an experiment designed by Gina Kim, Thatcher Lee, Roxy Ong, Sydney Sobel and Anthony Bvlgari.

Students spent time separating into teams, brainstorming topics and researching ideas, then adjusting their experiments or making wholesale changes based on their findings. Their proposed projects went through peer editing and review by local scientists and educators.

“These ones rose to the top for their clarity and significance,” Gies-McLaughlin said.

The program includes in-depth instruction in scientific principles as well as assistance from the English department to help students communicate their ideas effectively.

Earlier this month, when the three finalists were announced at a school assembly, organizers stressed that the winning experiment will represent the work of the entire school community.

Gies-McLaughlin noted that Lincoln is one of very few middle schools involved in the student spaceflight program.

“We’re very proud of what our program has become,” she said. “It began as after-school program for a couple dozen kids for Mission 2, and now it’s an eighth-grade-wide program.”

Lincoln’s three experiment finalists are currently under review by national organizers, and the winning project is expected to be announced by mid-December. Mission 9 is slated to transport more than 20 student experiments to the space station in spring of 2016.

For more information about the student spaceflight program, visit http://ssep.ncesse.org.

jeff@smdp.com

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