What happens to bacteria grown in space? Can ‘alien superbugs’ return to earth with enhanced powers to fight disease? And can a jumping spider still catch its prey in microgravity? The young scientists who asked these questions will soon be finding out, when their experiments are conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Both experiments were chosen as winners of the YouTube Space Lab competition and will be carried out on the ISS and streamed on YouTube live from space.
The winners were announced this week by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams at a ceremony in Washington D.C., USA.
The YouTube Space Lab competition challenged students around the world to devise an experiment to be carried out by astronauts on the ISS.
Hopeful contestants submitted two-minute videos outlining their hypotheses, with entries judged by YouTube viewers and a prominent panel of scientists, astronauts and educators.
Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma, winners of the 14-16 year old category, were inspired by studies that showed how bacteria grown in space returned more infectious than their counterparts on Earth. Their experiment 'Could alien superbugs cure disease on Earth?' will send bacteria to the ISS to see if introducing different nutrients and compounds can block their growth. If their hypothesis is correct, they suggest further studies could give us new tools to fight germs on Earth.
Amr Mohamed, winner of the 17-18 year old category with his experiment 'Can you teach an old spider new tricks?', wanted to discover if a lack of gravity would baffle zebra spiders as they pursued their prey. As these spiders catch prey by jumping on them rather than using a web, how would they adapt to space?
In addition to the global winners, four regional winners were selected. Emerald Bresnahan of the USA was curious to know if galaxies formed in a similar way to snowflakes.
Laura Calvo and María Vilas of Spain wanted to see if microgravity affected how liquids interact with compounds that lower surface tension.
Patrick Zeng and Derek Chan of New Zealand were interested in the speed of heat transfer in microgravity - faster or slower?
And can magnetic liquids called ferrofluids help engines stay cool when there’s no air? This burning question was asked by Sachin Kukke of India.
Professor Stephen Hawking said of the project: “Humanity's future relies on moving beyond Earth. As long as we are confined to one planet, the existence of our species will always be in question. Realising this goal will require an entrepreneurial spirit and a new generation of scientists and astronauts. YouTube Space Lab is a wonderful initiative that will help inspire young minds around the world to take a greater interest in science and the future of space exploration.”
This week the winners enjoyed the ZERO-G experience, a specially modified Boeing 727 flying in parabolic arcs to create a weightless environment as if in space. The customised plane is sometimes referred to as the 'vomit comet'.
The first-ever YouTube Space Lab contest was a worldwide initiative, and saw partnerships with computer company Lenovo, space tourism company Space Adventures and space agencies NASA, ESA and JAXA.
Space Lab is part of YouTube’s commitment to providing and showcasing educational content.