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By Alyssa King ‘04

On Wednesday, January 15, a group of five juniors, (Alyssa King, Dina Guzovsky, Greg Kantrowitz, Andy Mittelman and Scott Motejunas) and two science faculty members, (Ned Bean and Lida Famili), traveled to Florida for the opportunity of a lifetime. Since last winter, the team has been working on a bacterial antibiotic resistance experiment.

From left to right: Alyssa King, Greg Kantrowitz, Lida Famili, Ned Bean, Dina Guvovsky,Scott Motejunas and Andy Mittelman

The students went to observe the launch of the Columbia orbiter on Mission STS-107. Their experiment is a part of the CBIX-2 research payload. The Milton experiment is loaded on a materials dispersion apparatus device manufactured by ITA, (Instrumentation Technologies Associates), in Exton, Pennsylvania. When Columbia reaches micro-gravity altitude in its orbit around earth, one of the STS-107 astronauts will initiate the Milton experiments. The purpose of the experiment is to test the effect of micro-gravity on the way that bacteria cells resist antibiotics. First, students grew the bacteria culture, sampling the density of cells as the control variable. Following the initial growth, the procedure then called for the systematic distribution of the antibiotics in different dilutions, (.01%, .001%, .0001%), onto the two separate bacteria strings to test the cells’ strength. The zero-gravity component then took a dilution of each bacteria string and provided the cells the opportunity to grow and reproduce the culture in space. The students hypothesized that the zero-gravity growth period (16 days in orbit) would allow the cultures to grow stronger than the during the normal growth cycle on earth. As one student suggested, normally cells grow in a more two-dimensional fashion than they perhaps would in a situation without the imposing force of gravity. When the Columbia returns to earth, ITA will send the contents of the experiment back to Milton. Upon receipt of the micro-gravity bacterial culture the students will begin parallel testing of these bacteria against the same antibiotics use in ground based testing of non-micro-gravity bacteria.

The students were fortunate enough to experience the launch from the top of an official NASA building, and then further explored the Kennedy Space Center with a private tour from a NASA employee. The launch went according to plan, and at 10:39 on Thursday, January 16 Columbia’s main engines ignited, followed shortly by ignition of the solid rocket boosters. On the tour afterwards, students viewed NASA buildings, including the Payload Assembly Bays, the Payload Control Offices, and the main construction building, where part of the International Space Station is being assembled.

The trip to NASA was a great success, not only because it allowed students to experience the launch of a Space Shuttle containing their experiment, but also because it exposed them to career opportunities available in science. The space on Shuttle Columbia is being shared with more than 80 other experiments, ranging from an exploration of dark matter to a cancer study.
The students learned about the the shuttle crew and its members—which included the first Israeli to go into space—as well as the diverse backgrounds of the scientists on the ground.