Eight Fresno State students have been chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to conduct an experiment in its Grant Us Space Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program.
The students’ experiment is to test the formation of a substance called calcium oxalate to see how it reacts in a microgravity environment.
“This is important because in humans, [the substance] causes kidney stones,” Craig Seber, a senior majoring in plant science, said. “For astronauts who have a diet high in calcium oxalate, it could potentially be a problem without a doctor up there.”
According to NASA’s website, due to prolonged exposure to a microgravity environment, astronauts are at risk for developing kidney stones because of the loss of bone calcium and decreased fluid intake. These kidney stones can form during or after the flight, and can pose serious consequences if not treated immediately.
According to Seber, calcium oxalate can be found in many plants and fruits on earth. Two chemists, a plant science major and a group of engineers, will band together to find out if the substance if formed more or less abundantly in a zero gravity environment. To test this, they will make a mock plant cell to see if they could possibly create something to remedy this problem.
“NASA is going to fly us up to see if gravity has an effect on plants on regular earth,” he said.
The overall experience includes scientific research, hands-on experimental design, test operations and public outreach activities.
Mujahid Umar, a mechanical engineer major and captain of their team, said that not only will this experiment create networking opportunities and leadership skills for the students involved, but it will also create an overall knowledge of the subject even after the students leave the university.
“Calcium oxalate causes a lot of problems,” he said. “Hopefully we can use [the data we collect] to alter outcomes.”
Joy Goto, a professor in the biochemistry department, gives all the credit to the students for making this opportunity happen.
“They went through and figured out what the process is and wrote it up,” she said. “They did all the work.”
The students will be departing to Houston, Texas, on July 5, where they will go through training before they lift off.