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Arkansas student-experiment headed to the International Space Station

Pictured from left to right: Hope Hesterly, Piper Fain, Alexis Bryant & Lexi Betts, ninth grade students at Camden-Fairview High School whose student experiment is headed into orbit in 2017. (Photo: KATV)

When it comes to incorporating the state's new STEM standards for teaching science, teachers in the Camden-Fairview School District are proving the sky is not the limit for their students. This year more than 300 kids, grades 7-11, competed to have their own student-experiments tested on the International Space Station.

Pam Vaughan, science specialist at Camden-Fairview Schools, discovered the unique opportunity to give students a real-life learning experience to combine both biology and engineering curriculums into one. Vaughan teamed up with the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

The national program has students compete to create research proposals and have those proposals vetted by a review board. Students worked in groups to develop their experiments and presented their proposals to panel at the local level, dwindling the experiments to a select few to be chosen by the review board in Maryland.

The project chosen was an experiment to test how polymers form in microgravity. Ninth graders, Lexi Betts, Alexis Bryant, Piper Fain, Hope Hesterly and Trey Jeffus were the team of students that came up with the project. The group worked for months just to come up with the proposal - but earlier this month they received word that their project would be headed into space.

"I jumped up and down," said Piper Fain, describing when she heard they won. "I was really, really happy to find out that we were a finalist - and I'm pretty sure everybody else had a similar reaction."

Fain came up with the group's idea to create an adhesive here on earth and test its strength with gravity, and then in space with microgravity.

"This is the perfect case, the perfect scenario," said Vaughan, describing how well the program fits with the state science, technology, engineering and math initiative.

"They're doing real life science, but they have to make it fit into the engineering constraints in that little tube they're sending into space."

Vaughan said the science experiments also bled into English class, where students peer-reviewed each other's experiment proposals.

It will be the first time an Arkansas school has participated in the program, and therefore also the first time an Arkansas student-experiment will be flying in space. The program has given students like Hope Hesterly, a renewed interest in science - enjoying the competition aspect of learning as well as knowing that it's not just school work but actually science that will be tested in the real-world - or rather in real-outerspace.

"Just to think that an astronaut will be holding our experiment, and when it comes down we're going to get to see that polymer that was made in microgravity," remarked Hesterly.

The students will continue to refine their experimental procedures over the summer, before undergoing an official NASA Toxicology Flight Safety Review in September.

Camden-Fairview's experiment is set for lift off on a NASA supply mission rocket to the International Space Station some time in February 2017.

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