Teacher’s Experiment Heads to Space

Teacher Sara Timmer ’86 with three of her Highland Christian School students: (l-r) Cameron Zandstra, Jack Barth, and JP PeerbolteIn April, Sara Timmer ’86 began conducting a unique experiment. She and her students at Highland Christian School, Highland, Indiana, began germinating soybean seeds in the classroom while also preparing another “crop” to germinate way outside of the classroom…namely outer space.

Timmer graduated from Trinity with a degree in biology and chemistry and returned to earn her teaching certification in 2009 through the Adult Studies Accelerated Program.

With her guidance and help from Dr. Lou Sytsma ’65, professor of chemistry at Trinity, Timmer’s students wrote a proposal for the experiment to be conducted in space on the International Space Station (ISS).

The proposed experiment, “The Effect of Microgravity on the Quality and Nutritional Value of the Seed Sprout of a Germinated 92M72 Genetically-Modified Soybean,” was selected as part of Mission 1 to the ISS, the third flight opportunity provided by America’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).

Through a grant from Pioneer-Hybrid International, Timmers, the student writers of the proposal, and some of their parents traveled to Florida to watch the launch.

The soybean seeds are flying in a microgravity research mini-laboratory in low Earth orbit to see if food can be grown in other environments. When the seeds return to Earth from space, the students will come to Trinity and work with Dr. Bob Boomsma, professor of biology at Trinity, to compare the seed from space and the one germinating on earth.

“This was an exciting opportunity to work with the students on current experimentation going on in the science community,” said Timmer. She said that through the project, students celebrated the joy of learning and the excitement of this unusual scientific opportunity.

Participation in these experiments shows a broader commitment to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. SSEP typically gives 300 to 1,000 students across a community the ability to design and propose real experiments to fly in low Earth orbit, first aboard the final flights of the space shuttle, and then on the ISS.

The SSEP (http://ssep.ncesse.org) is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE; http://ncesse.org) in partnership with NanoRacks, LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.