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Valley Center High students’ winning experiment launched into space

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at 9:55 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at 10:42 p.m.


There were no speeches or introductions before the live broadcast of Thursday’s launch of the space flight carrying Valley Center High School’s winning experiment.

The students, parents and teachers gathered in the school’s library had waited long enough.

“This has been postponed several times. We thought it was going up last school year, so we’re ready for this to happen,” said Kristen Joyal, the Valley Center High math teacher responsible for getting the school involved with the Student Spaceflights Experiments Program.

The winning group, made up of four juniors and one senior, all sat in the front row to watch the launch. Pictures were taken and high-fives exchanged after the countdown was finished and the launch complete.

The cargo spacecraft is due to land at the International Space Station on Sunday and stay there for six weeks.

Group members Logan Burks, Samuel Sheahan, Garrett Chandler, Wesley Crow and Cole Klinkhammer all agreed they were excited that the spaceflight had launched but are already looking forward to its return.

“I’m so anxious to see what the results will look like,” Crow said.

The group’s experiment on the effect of microgravity on bacterial growth and its resistance to antibiotics was selected in 2012 to compete in the Student Spaceflights Experiments Program.

For the experiment, the group chose a common bacteria responsible for different harmful infections, staphylococcus intermedius, and an antibiotic commonly used to kill these specific bacteria, ciprofloxacin.

According to the group’s proposal submitted to the program, “the essential purpose of the experiment is to monitor the effect of microgravity on the growth of bacteria and how it resists an antibiotic originally used to eliminate the bacteria grown in the effect of gravity,”

Jeff Tracy, the biology professor who guided the group, brought four of his children to watch the launch. Tracy was impressed with the skill level that the group brought to the competition.

“I was dumbfounded more than once by their creativity,” he said. “They really amazed me many times throughout the process.”

Joyal credits the Valley Center community with the overall success of the project. The community was part of an effort to raise $20,000 to allow the school to participate in the project.

“For the community, this (launch) is the highlight,” she said. “They haven’t been able to see the process. It’s exciting that we can all share this together.”

Joyal said her goal in getting the school involved in the program was to inspire the younger students.

“Hopefully this will light some fires in the younger kids and get them interested in technology and science,” Joyal said.

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