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Maggots - and cheese strings and chicken bones - in space

Interlake's budding scientists have stars in their eyes

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Woodlands -- The Interlake School Division's volunteer maggots, worms, ants, lime juice, apple seeds, carrots, cheese strings, and chicken bones may be boldly going where no other Interlake student's science experiment has gone before.

The space cadets in grades 5 and 6 in eight schools in the Interlake division are in their labs devising scientific experiments to be carried out on the International Space Station.

Hannah Friesen, 10, holds up some

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Hannah Friesen, 10, holds up some "worm goo" during an experiment about polymers in teacher Maria Nickel's class at Woodlands Elementary in Woodlands, Manitoba. (MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Photo Store

Nowhere do these kids have stars in their eyes more fervently than in teacher Maria Nickel's class in Woodlands School.

That would be Nickel scurrying around her classroom while wearing an authentic blue NASA flight suit from one of the really serious space camps she's attended -- pretty easy to pick her out of a crowd.

There's a competition underway to select 16 experiments an astronaut will perform on the International Space Station in the spring of 2013. Nickel somehow convinced the organizers to not only allow Interlake to enter the otherwise all-American competition, but to designate it as one of the 16 regions in the competition, thus guaranteeing one of the division's experiments will be carried out on the space station.

They're having fun and they're learning a lot about science and math.

What NASA will take into space for the 16 experiments is measured in a very few grams and millilitres in up to three test tubes per experiment that are as tiny as a really thin pen.

And maybe one of those ideas being hatched in the Interlake will help us colonize or terraform the moon or Mars.


Living organisms are a big part of the experiments at Balmoral School. No, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals hasn't been to the school; not yet, anyway.

Student Chris Fines is on a team whose experiment would require the astronaut to have a high yucky-icky-stinko tolerance.

"We're working on maggots and rotten meat up in space... to see if the meat will be gone when they get back," said Chris.

In space, no one can hear you go "Oh, gross."

The point is to find a way to get rid of waste.

Alexis Forbes hopes to send worms to space to conduct vermicomposting. "They said they want to make hotels in space, so maybe they'll need composting," Alexis said.

Three lads are on a science team that hopes to launch an ant farm.

"If the ants live, maybe dogs will," said Dustin Van Caeyzere.

Balmoral Elementary students, left to right, Owen Rock, 10, Weston Stanley, 10, Chris Fines, 10, and Colby Taylor, 10, are trying to figure out an experiment that involves maggots, meat and dirt in space.

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Balmoral Elementary students, left to right, Owen Rock, 10, Weston Stanley, 10, Chris Fines, 10, and Colby Taylor, 10, are trying to figure out an experiment that involves maggots, meat and dirt in space. (MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Photo Store

Said his buddy Hunter Kachur: "People like maybe want to have pets in space."

Mackenzie McLeod already knew there was a dog sent into space. What Mackenzie didn't know, until he chatted with an adult who'd been in Grade 5 when a Soviet dog went into space, was that Laika died up there, with no plans built in to bring her back down. Major downer for Mackenzie, definitely classified as too much information.



Caviar in space, anyone?

"We did fish eggs, to see if they'll hatch in space," said Tyson Oughton.

As Eric Tickle elaborated: "To see if you get food in space."

Kaitlin Van Haute and her group "want to see if we can send moss up in space, to see if it can produce oxygen, or reproduce."

Abigail Georgison said they add agar gel to the moss. "It keeps the moisture, so we don't have to waste water."

Elsewhere, if you eat the experiment, you'll answer to scientist Jerilyn Valiquette. "We're trying to send a cheese string into space, to see if it will mould faster or slower," she said. Meanwhile, back on the planet's surface, "We'll have a cheese string down here in the classroom, and when (the space cheese string) comes down, we're going to compare them."

Abby Shepell wants space people to get their vitamins.

"We're going to put apples and oranges in space, to see if the vitamin level would change. Would we be losing vitamins, or having the same?" she asked. When the fruit comes back, the students will take them to a lab for testing.

And then there's Tessa Thevenot, who may not yet be a rocket scientist, but is showing definite signs she could be the one to invent a warp drive.

"I have this huge telescope" her family takes to its cabin where lights don't interfere with gazing at the sky. "Definitely cool," said Tessa. "I would definitely like to learn more -- I have a whole lot of books in my room about space."

Meanwhile, she hopes to send a chicken bone into orbit to find out what happens to calcium in microgravity.

"We're going to have the calcium pill and the water in the second tube. We know astronauts lose calcium," Tessa said. "They should drink tons of milk cartons before they go up."



The kids who Nickel and Harold Enns teach at Woodlands are more vegetarian in their scientific pursuits.

"We're doing algae that grows in lakes and ponds," Jennifer Fossay explained. "We're going to see if it can grow in space faster than on Earth. People are saying algae can be the new gas."

Over to Hannah Friesen: "We're doing daisies, to see if they'll actually grow on Mars. Amie (Phillips) and I said they would look nice, and they grow really well here."

Children who advocate eating peas should always get public attention and positive reinforcement.

"We're seeing if peas will grow faster down here or in space, or bigger," said Marcel Bonwick.

They're testing the hypothesis, said Carter Hildebrand, that, "Then they'll have more food."

The students probably don't know that the 1951 classic alien monster The Thing From Another World was essentially a sentient carrot. Digression aside, Ariana Huff and Elizabeth Overton are sending a carrot to infinity and beyond.

Ariana: "Gravity is what makes them grow downward, so we'll see what happens in space."

Elizabeth: "Maybe it might tip to the side, and grow that way."

Ariana: "Or it might grow in a different shape."


Hands up, any future Mars colonist who wants to see mosquitoes hatching when earthlings put water back in the red planet's canals.

Averie Garrett's team would do just that.

"We're seeing if mosquito larvae would hatch in microgravity," Averie said. "You need mosquitoes because they support your habitat -- frogs eat them."

Harley Peterson didn't see any big deal: "Animals are part of the food chain. That's all."

And Ryan Peltz assured skeptics nothing can go wrong. "Only in the movies," he said.

Actually, it always goes wrong in the movies. But maybe send up a few cans of Off on the same rocket just to be safe.

Monique Ledoux's experiment could smell a bit. "Can milk go sour in microgravity?" she asked. If not, "It could use less energy, rather than refrigerate it."

What do you do with waste construction materials that won't compost?

"We're trying to see if citric acid from a lime will dissolve welding rods," said Hunter Sholdice. "They can't just put it out the window."

All right, all together now, 10... 9... 8...

Students in grades 5 and 6 at eight schools in Interlake School Division are involved in the space race: Balmoral, Brant-Argyle, Grosse Isle, Stonewall Centennial, Stony Mountain, Teulon, Warren, and Woodlands.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 A6

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