Hundreds of students and teachers from nine states have prepared 290
biological samples for an experiment astronauts will deliver to the
International Space Station when Space Shuttle Atlantis returns to
that unique, orbiting laboratory in April.

Many of the students will be at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to
watch as Atlantis lifts off with their experiments.

“With this upcoming space mission, more students across America
are learning how the Space Station can help us understand the
biochemistry of plants and animals on Earth,” said Ray French,
project manager for the experiment at NASA’s Marshall Space
Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“By providing an opportunity to be part of a space
experiment,” said French, the Space Station is touching
the lives of a diverse group of students – ranging from special
needs students, to those who have never met a scientist, to chemistry
students who hope to become NASA scientists.”

The students are participating in a Space Station biotech experiment
led by Dr. Alex McPherson – a biochemist at the University of
California, Irvine. Thanks to McPherson and his team, workshops to
learn biochemistry and load samples are held in schools located in
American settings ranging from the inner city, to suburbs, to small,
rural towns.

This is the first flight for students from four states –
Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and West Virginia – to participate in
the experiment, sponsored by the NASA’s Macromolecular
Biotechnology Program at the Marshall Center.

My students have seen a new side of science as they work beside
NASA and university scientists who are so dedicated to exploration and
research,” said Ronald Brady, a teacher at Lincoln West High
School in Cleveland’s inner city. They’ve been
exposed to a new type of laboratory experience, and it has made them
think about their future careers.”

“In this NASA project I learned about proteins and how they help us in
science,” said Matthew Frankovic of Lincoln West High School.
Sending an experiment to space is a fun experience.”

Neil Rapp’s chemistry students made the extra effort to work on
the project after school at Bloomington High School South, one of two
Indiana schools participating in the experiment.

They got a feel for what NASA does, and what they might choose
as a career,” Rapp said. Our studies and discussions in
the classroom of crystal structure were transformed from just being
another section in the textbook to being a project they literally got
their hands on.”

Students from the four states new to the program were joined by
students from Alabama, California, Florida, Michigan and Texas –
states that participated in preparing samples for the three prior
flights of this experiment.

This opportunity opens students’ eyes to so much of the
world beyond,” said LaVonda Popp, who teaches chemistry, physics
and biology at Gatesville High School, a rural school in Gatesville,
Texas. Many of my students didn’t know much about space,
and this educational opportunity exposes them to careers and different
areas of science conducted in space.”

A biological sample loaded by U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana also
will be delivered to the Station. Montana students and teachers will
be participating in future workshops, and will load samples to be
flown on future Space Station missions.

In these workshops – held before each experiment flight to the
Space Station – students and teachers work beside scientists
from the University of California, Irvine, other universities, and
NASA. They prepare, freeze and seal biological solutions in small

Just before launch, scientists place the samples in the Enhanced
Gaseous Nitrogen Dewar – a thermos-like container – that
has an absorbent inner liner saturated with liquid nitrogen. After
Space Shuttle Atlantis docks with the Space Station during the STS-110
mission in April, the crew will move the dewar to the Station. After
about 10 days, when the nitrogen has evaporated and thawing is
complete, the biological solutions will begin to form crystals.

Students can view photos of some crystals grown during NASA workshops
on a special Web site designed by Anna Holmes, a NASA scientist who
conducts workshops at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. When
the crystals grown in space are returned, McPherson and other
biochemists will study them.

Often, higher quality crystals can be grown in the low-gravity
environment created as spacecraft circle Earth. Scientists use the
crystals to map the structure of biological macromolecules – the
building blocks that make up proteins, viruses and other substances
that perform critical functions in our bodies and in animals and

Preliminary results from the first crystals grown during the
Enhanced Gaseous Nitrogen Dewar’s first flight were
encouraging,” said Ron Porter, head of science planning for
NASA’s Macromolecular Biotechnology Program at the Marshall
Center. Over the course of three flights, more than 800
biological samples were delivered to the Station where crystals formed
in microgravity over 40-day periods.”

The longer duration growth that is possible aboard the Space Station
may enhance the quality of some crystals. Crystals grown on the
Station in the fall of 2001 produced the highest quality thaumatin
crystals ever grown on Earth or in space.

Thaumatin is a protein from the African Serendipity berry or
Thaumatocccus danielli and is valued for its intensely sweet taste.
High quality crystals also were grown of pea lectin, glucose
isomerase, concanavalin and lactalbumin, important industrial enzymes,
as well as Bence-Jones protein, a protein used in anti-cancer
therapeutic strategies.

Knowledge of the precise three-dimensional molecular structure is an
important tool for biochemists designing medicines. Scientists from
academia and industry are using several other facilities on board the
Space Station to grow biological crystals. The dewar is a relatively
low-cost program that allows scientists to grow hundreds of crystals
and to study optimum crystal growth conditions on the Station.

On three previous Space Station missions, 445 teachers and students
have participated in the experiment and sent samples to the Space
Station. This education activity and the Enhanced Gaseous Nitrogen
Dewar experiment are sponsored by the Macromolecular Biotechnology
Program at the Marshall Center and the Office of Biological and
Physical Research at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.