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SSEP Students Featured in the Cuba Patriot

Originally published in the Cuba Patriot Newspaper, Article by Elissa Burke

This isn’t the first time that Wellsville Secondary students will have their hard work journey into space. A group of four sophomores, Serena Boussa, Eli Brophy, Aidan Jadwin and Ben Jordan, will be heading to Florida in June to watch the rocket launch that will carry the experiment that they developed head to the International Space Station.

According to Ross Munson, the teacher who oversees the project, Wellsville first got involved in 2017 with the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program which is an international competition run out of the National Center for Earth and Space Science in Washington, D.C. The program involves having students come up with the experiment, design the experiment, and then propose the experiment, which is the most difficult part of the process.

“I can confidently speak for the group when I say we have all learned an abundance from this project,” explains Serena Boussa, “Especially regarding teamwork and how to collaborate with others. Beyond this, we’ve learned how to conduct effective scientific research in a way that can’t be derived in a typical high school science class.”

“The first year we participated, I included the competition as part of my College Biology course, and perhaps it was beginner’s luck, but we won it,” relates Munson. “We’ve been participating every year since.’

This past year, as with many things in the world, the COVID effect took its toll on the program, and it didn’t take place. After a conversation with the national director last spring, Munson decided he would pick up the reins in this region as he had seen the positive impact the program has on students and their interest in science. ‘This year, we’ve organized it more broadly, pulling in schools from Olean, Lockport and Wellsville, and I sort of oversaw the whole thing,” he explains. In addition, Munson advised two research groups from Wellsville—the winning group of sophomores, as well as a group from his College Biology course.

There’s a lengthy guideline document that the students must follow as the design their experiment. “It’s really akin to grant writing,” explains Munson. “You have to use a specific font and type size; it’s absolutely meticulous.”

The students had to design a ground-up experiment, of their own idea, to be conducted in a small tube. The experiment would be conducted on the International Space Station with the idea that the variable in question is lack of gravity.

“We do very well, with the justification piece, I think,” notes Munson. “Why should we give you this resource? It’s very expensive to conduct your experiment. You have to convince the review panel of that.”

The title of the experiment is, “The Effect of Microgravity on the Resistance of Staphylococcus Epidermidis Oxacillin.” Munson explains in layman’s terms, “It’s a fairly benign bacteria that lives on your skin, and they students want to test whether antibiotic resistance chances in microgravity. The justification being that we need to understand how our antibiotics and bacteria operate in space as we attempt to travel to Mars in the near future.”

It costs $25, 000 to send this tiny test tube into space, and typically, the component schools who participate help foot a small portion of that bill. There are also partnerships in place with Corning, Inc., Alfred University, and Moog, Inc. These relationships provide financial investment into the program, manpower in the form of review panel members, or both, according to Mr. Munson.

“To get to ride on the coattails of the successes of these kids is unbelievable. These experiences have changed who I am as a professional,” explains Munson. “For me, personally, to be the teacher of a group that’s going again, it’s like, man…does lightning strike twice? It’s amazing. And the thing that’s truly remarkable about this group is that this has been above and beyond all of their regular school work and extra-curriculars.”

In addition to watching the rocket launch in June, the students will also have the opportunity to speak about their experiment at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum later this year.

Notes Boussa, “Mr. Munson believed in our team and the research we were doing. He facilitated our independence which allowed us to learn many valuable lessons. We are so thankful to everyone who made this opportunity possible and look forward to what’s next!”

ssep team

Team members from L to R: Aidan Jadwin, Ben Jordan, Serena Boussa, Eli Brophy