State College HS Students help to learn about genetics in space

Local News

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WTAJ ) — A team of State College Area High School Students is one of few groups selected as finalists in a national stem competition.

The competition challenges students to create solutions to space exploration problems.

Claire Jin, Tori Sodeinde, and Jessica Zhang, all tenth graders at State College High, are one-of-five teams out of nearly 800 nation-wide, whose experiment will move on to the finals for the annual “Genes In Space” competition.

“I was really shocked because I didn’t expect this at all,” Zhang said.

Their team’s idea: design an experiment that will determine why astronauts have weak bones.

“We know that when astronauts go into space and very quickly they start to lose a lot of their bone density… which can cause a lot of problems when they come back down to Earth..” Sodeinde said.

Problems like osteoporosis and kidney stones.

“That’s a really serious problem and people don’t know what causes bone loss in space,” said Jin.

“What we’re doing is looking to see if there is a genetic component we can identify that would let us know exactly how the bone loss occurs,” Sodeinde said.

The team is studying osteoblasts or bone growing cells, and their effect on cells and genes. If they can figure out what causes the bone loss, something scientists are trying to determine, the next step will be looking to see how astronauts can be protected.

“We really want to focus on feasibility and making sure that it would be simple to do in space and as elegant as possible,” Jin said.

Ultimately the team’s research could help astronauts take extended missions with fewer health complications.

“It’s amazing, it would be something I’ve never done before, something really interesting to see happen,” said Zhang.

The team will present their proposal to a panel of scientists at the International Space Station conference in Atlanta, Georgia at the end of July.

We’re told scientists from Harvard and MIT will mentor the finalists before their presentations.

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