We have lift off! Students’ experiment heads for space

A science experiment designed by a team of students from Tonbridge School and Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School will shortly be blasting off into space.

Mission Discovery awards night
Mission Discovery awards night

31st January 2020 — The students came up with their winning design as part of the ‘Mission Discovery’ competition, run by ISSET, the International Space School Educational Trust, which took place at Tonbridge last year.

The winning team carried out an investigation into whether yeast (specifically, the saccharomyces cerevisiae species of yeast) can successfully sexually reproduce under the stress of microgravity.

On Monday 2 March, the experiment will be placed aboard NASA spacecraft Space X, CRS 20, and launched to the International Space Station. In recent weeks it has been built by scientists led by Dr Julie Keeble, ISSET’s Chief Scientist and Senior Lecturer of Pharmacology at King’s College London.

On board Space X will be seven experiments that have been devised by young people from around the world; these will then be carried out by astronauts currently based at the International Space Station.

The winning team included Sixth Formers Thomas Stack (FH5), Godwyn Lai (MH5) and Edward Barry (Sc5), all from Tonbridge School, and Sarah Prescott and Abigail Colley, both from Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School.

In their investigation, yeast is being used as a model organism for human cell biology. The S. cerevisiae is being used as a representation of sexual reproduction and the experiment may offer key insights into the effects of exposure to microgravity and radiation in spaceflight on reproduction.

Edward Barry said: “Knowing that something that I directly contributed to will be put in space is an incredible feeling. Teamwork was the key to succeeding. With such time pressure, each teammate was invaluable, from the brainstorm to the final presentation.”

Godwyn Lai added: “I never thought I'd be able to say I have designed an experiment that was then conducted in space! I found Mission Discovery to be an incredibly enriching experience.”

In March 2019, Tonbridge became the first UK school to host Mission Discovery. Students from various schools took part in the event, which gave them the opportunity to work with NASA astronauts and renowned scientists as they created ideas for experiments that could be carried out in space.

Leading Mission Discovery at Tonbridge were NASA astronauts Dr Michael Foale CBE, the first British-born NASA astronaut, and Dr Steve Swanson. Both are former International Space Station commanders.

Mission Discovery also set students personal objectives such as working successfully in teams, delivering presentations and speaking confidently in public.

James Priory, Headmaster of Tonbridge School, said: “It’s hard to imagine a more exciting prize for students than to see their experiment being flown into space and carried out by NASA astronauts. Mission Discovery was a fun and inspiring event for everyone who took part, and one which put education and innovation centre stage.”

About Tonbridge School

Tonbridge School is one of the leading boys' boarding schools in the country and highly respected internationally. The school provides a caring and enlightened environment in which the talents of each individual flourish. We encourage boys to be creative, tolerant and to strive for academic, sporting and cultural excellence. Respect for tradition and an openness to innovation are equally valued.

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