ActivePaper Archive Oklahoma tech center team finalist in science competition - Oklahoman, 6/5/2016

Oklahoma tech center team finalist in science competition

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Pontotoc Technology Center students, from left, Seth Bittle, Savanna WeaselBear, Justin Harris and Corey Ardrey, are finalists in an International Space Station competition. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

ADA — Four new high school graduates are polishing their scientific research for a chance to have a DNA experiment of their design tested in space.

The team of environmental biotechnology students from Pontotoc Technology Center will compete next month at the International Space Station Research and Development conference in San Diego.

Corey Ardrey, Justin Harris, Savanna WeaselBear and Seth Bittle are exploring how microgravity affects living organisms.

The team finished in the top five among more than 380 entries in the national Genes in Space Science competition.

The winning experiment will be carried out on the International Space Station.

“To say I’m delighted, yes” said biotechnology instructor Kay Gamble. “You could say I’m over the moon ”

Gamble’s students studied how microgravity might affect a population’s gene pool over generations of time spent in space.

“Some organisms are more successful in a certain environment ” Gamble said. “How would we survive as a species in space?”

The challenge

Gamble made the assignment last fall after learning about the Genes in Space challenge.

“I thought it would be a great way to problem solve. It would be a great opportunity” she said.

The challenge allows students to work individually or in teams to design an experiment that could go into space.

“I was pleased that they decided to work as a team ” Gamble said.

“Everybody brings strength to the group”

The journey started in November with brainstorming.

“It is not easy. You can come up with all kinds of great experiments, but when you have to do it in space, it changes the whole playing field ” Gamble said.

Because the team was named a finalist, Pontotoc Technology Center will receive a miniPCR DNA Discovery System.

Polymerase chain reaction is used to make more DNA from a small sample.

Meanwhile, Ardrey, Bittle, Harris and WeaselBear are continuing to research.

They have to design two more experiments based on their proposal before they present it at the July 12-14 conference in San Diego.

The winning team will send its DNA experiment to the International Space Station and be listed as principal investigator in NASA documents.

Winners have an opportunity to attend Space Biology Camp at New England BioLabs and to witness the launch of their experiment.

Gamble said she learned things alongside her students during the process.

“Science is hugely creative” she said.

“What’s known is so little compared to what’s yet to be discovered ”