Lamar Academy Student Project is Selected for Space Experiment

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A proposal by three McAllen ISD students has been selected for a space experiment that will be launched this spring. They’ve decided to test whether tomatoes can be germinated on Mars, as a sign of the possibility of life in another planet. They are just one of 23 groups to have been selected in the U.S. and Canada, and the only school in the Rio Grande Valley.

But why tomatoes? “Well tomatoes are pretty resilient and they’re pretty easy to germinate,” said Lamar Academy student, Sabrina Benitez. “There was an experiment conducted on a volcano in Hawaii a couple of years ago, and the volcano had similar settings to what’s found on Mars and the only thing they were able to grow on [it] was tomatoes. So that’s why we chose to use tomato seeds.”

IB Chemistry teacher Laura Nikstad said, “I’m really excited as a chemistry teacher because my students are doing real science. They’re doing the work of astro-biologists. They’re learning how the scientific process works. And what better way than to do an experiment like this.”

The students are testing different amounts of water, soil, and seeds to see which growing conditions would be ideal in microgravity. Once they have the correct mixture, they’ll send off their work and have astronauts conduct each experiment from the International Space Station.

Student Sofia Escobar said playing the waiting game was nerve-wracking. “The whole thing took about two months, I believe, of waiting for decision after decision and when we moved up from UTRGV we were really excited. But when we moved up to the Smithsonian that’s when we were ecstatic I think, because it’s such an incredible opportunity. Even if we weren’t selected, just to get that far was incredible.”

The projects began last fall and the students are hoping their hard work will make a positive impact on the future of space science.

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