Education

Shooting for the stars: State High students are finalists in Genes in Space contest

State High students have a chance to have experiment tested at International Space Station

State High students are finalists in the Genes in Space contest. This video was provided by WTAJ, through a partnership with the Centre Daily Times for daily news content.
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State High students are finalists in the Genes in Space contest. This video was provided by WTAJ, through a partnership with the Centre Daily Times for daily news content.

After submitting an extensive proposal to a nationwide STEM competition, three State College Area High school students are hoping for an out of this world outcome.

State High students Claire Jin, Tori Sodeinde and Jessica Zhang are among the top five finalists of the Genes In Space competition that provides young scientists with the opportunity to have their proposed experiment tested at the International Space Station.

All students who enter the competition are asked to provide a scientific proposal aimed toward fixing a real-life issue faced by space travelers. Jin, Sodeinde and Zhang focused on cellular mechanisms underlying astronaut bone density loss — why astronauts lose bone density in space, making them more susceptible to fractures.

“One feature of this competition is that you need to solve real-world problems ... and the solution has to be scientifically rigorous,” said the team’s coach, Qunhua Li, who is an associate professor of statistics at Penn State.

Out of 789 submission from across the country, the State High team’s proposal caught the judges’ eyes. The students will attend a conference July 29-Aug. 1 in Atlanta, where they’ll be mentored by scientists from Harvard and MIT and share their presentations. The judges will announce the winning team at the end of the conference, and that team goes on to prepare the experiment that will be carried out in space, according to the Genes in Space website.

Li, who typically works with undergraduate and graduate students, said she was impressed by how dedicated these students were to their project.

According to Li, the students spent hours going through research papers, studying up on literature, and learning scientific jargon while still keeping up with their day to day studies.

“I was amazed by how much these high school students can do when given proper guidance,” said Li.

Katy Martin, the Genes in Space program lead, said that becoming a finalist is a victory on its own, and that there is a lot to be said for high school students having their work conducted at the International Space Station.

“The students are achieving things that Ph.D.-level scientists have dreamt of for years,” said Martin.

According to Chris Rosenblum, SCASD’s director of communications, this is the second time State College will be represented in the Genes in Space finals conference.

In 2015, sophomore Alyssa Huff was selected as a finalist for her proposed experiment that was centralized around testing alien planetary that would help scientists identify extraterrestrial life.

Although Huff came close, her idea was not chosen for the International Space Station.

“This could definitely be the first time that high school students State College has had an impact on the International Space Station. It’s exciting, and could change these students’ lives,” Martin said.

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