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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Marion County sixth grader’s science experiment headed to International Space Station

A sixth grader in Marion County went above and beyond to ensure that her hard work and experimentation as a former student at Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School did not go unfinished.

During the previous school year, Collins Sheldon – now a sixth-grade student at Howard Middle School – participated in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) while attending Dr. N.H. Jones.

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During the 2021-2022 school year, Collins Sheldon participated in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program at Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School (Photo: Marion County Public Schools)

SSEP is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in the United States and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. The program is enabled through a strategic partnership with Nanoracks LLC, which is working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.

SSEP is the first pre-college Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.

The SSEP program started in 2010, and Marion County Public Schools began participating in the program two years ago. SSEP invited students across the world to write competitive research proposals to test the effect of microgravity, and those proposals were then vetted by a two-step review board.

Groups were formed, experiments were developed, and local review boards identified top-flight experiment contenders to move forward in the competition. Earlier this year, several Dr. N.H. Jones students found their projects selected to be utilized aboard one of the International Space Station missions.

Collins’ original project received Honorable Mention last year. According to MCPS, students are permitted to modify experiments for future experimentation and submission. While her fellow group members were unable to move forward with the project modifications, Collins made the decision to tackle it on her own.

With the help of her former teacher, Lisa Fontaine-Dorsey, and the biotechnology teacher at North Marion High School, Carla “Dee” Reedy, Collins not only modified her project – she wrote an entirely new proposal.

This college-level work was primarily done independently, with the exception of a handful of lab students who assisted Collins with testing. It took plenty of time and dedication for Collins to conduct a project of this magnitude.

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Collins Sheldon working on her experiment (Photo: Marion County Public Schools)

On many mornings, Collins traveled to Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School at 7:15 a.m. to write and facilitate her experiment, followed by countless hours in the lab. There were also zoom calls with Fontaine-Dorsey in the evenings and on weekends.

Collins accomplished all of this while navigating her first year of middle school, participating on the Academic and Math Counts teams, joining the TV Production crew, and running on the school’s cross country team.

Collins’ experiment, “Does Microgravity Affect the Amount of Protein Produced in Escherichia Coli?,” will test if protein production in microgravity is possible and more efficient than under normal gravitational conditions. This experiment could support the creation of effective medications for future space travelers in microgravity conditions, according to MCPS.

After all of her hard work and dedication, Collins was recently notified that her experiment was selected to move on to the next phase of the program – a trip to the International Space Station where it will be tested in microgravity. The experiment is expected to travel on the SpaceX Rocket at some point in the next 160 days.

For more information, including updates on SSEP Mission 17, visit the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program website.