Six high schoolers. A year of planning, research, and collaboration, with one vision in mind: to be the first team from Singapore to reach outer space. When senior Sunita Srivatsan, Class of 2017, was enrolled in our school’s Catalyst program, she strived to push boundaries and reach new heights—literally. Hello SpaceLab!
Srivatsan then assembled a team and braved multiple challenges to make her dream come true. On July 3, 2017, their experiment landed safely back on Earth after orbiting around the planet aboard the International Space Station for 30 days. But Srivatsan’s journey wasn’t over yet. Determined to leave her mark and give other students a chance to experience first hand cutting-edge scientific research, she initiated SpaceLab 2.0!
After sifting through and interviewing 66 extremely well-qualified applicants, a team of 11 members was chosen to continue this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, with the original six acting as mentors. On this team are seniors Jihwan Choi, Faisal Halabeya, Chloe Shin-Gay, and Jacob Uy; juniors Zeo Barinaga, Chris Cho, and Sohit Gatiganti; sophomores Alan Chang, Elizabeth Frey, Kavin Kapoor, and Ahan Kaul. The team will be mentored by Bhattacharya Space Enterprises’ Bidushi Bhattacharya, and Smiriti Srivastava.
The new team started off the school year with a bang, ending the summer vacation with the first few team meetings. Soon it was time to choose an experiment. The question that lingered during those conversations and brainstorming sessions was “where do we even begin?”
Last year, the team launched genetically modified E. Coli bacteria into space to measure their growth in a broth infused with melanin, the chemical pigment found in our skin. Confined to small box measuring four inches in length and two inches in height and width, this experiment considered the effects of heightened radiation and microgravity on E. Coli, allowing the global scientific community to use the gathered data to advance plant research as well as their understanding of the correlation between radiation and human skin health.
After being briefed on project guidelines and time constrictions, SpaceLab 2.0 was faced with the daunting task of choosing an experiment. Each member was assigned to design a project outline of their original ideas, grappling with questions involving the safety risks of sending salmonella to space, or the logistics of culturing Alzheimer's cells.
Finally, we were able to settle on an idea: crystallizing copper and bronze in an electrochemical cell.
Composed of two chambers, our electrochemical cell would be a small box filled with dissolved metallic solutions. Running a current through these solutions causes the metals to then crystallize in the solution. In space, metal ions crystallize differently than on Earth, due to the lack of gravity, which could allow metal crystals to assume fuller shapes with fewer imperfections.
Potentially leading to huge advances in the way copper and bronze are used on Earth to conduct electricity, data gathered from our experiment will greatly benefit engineering and physics fields.
Once we zeroed in on the experiment topic, we were left with, planning the experiment and determining our next steps.
We started by creating a few layouts of the electrochemical cell to see what kind of materials would be best to work with, discussing the ideal types of metals and electronic microchips. After assigning each team member a role in the planning process, we were able to start writing up a required safety document detailing all vendors, equipment, and safety precautions.
Meeting our deadline by well over two days and letting out a sigh of relief, it was time to start ordering our materials. After being part of the SpaceLab for just two months, we should have known that sighs of relief are rare, if at all. One of the solutions we needed to use was deemed hazardous by the shipping company, forcing us to frantically search for other options.
We spent hours calling up new vendors and trying to source our copper solution when finally, after a few emails to our vendor’s safety team, they were able to ship the solution. Experiences like these, while quite harrowing, continue to push us as a team to adapt and adjust to any obstacles along the way.
Eager to share our ideas with the rest of Singapore, on October 6, 2017, a subsection of our group headed over to Singapore’s Science Center to give a talk during the annual Space Week. Speaking in front of real-life astrologists and space enthusiasts, we introduced our experiment to the public. Our love for space was apparent as we discussed our project’s progress, plans for the future, and most importantly, why we chose to partake in SpaceLab.
SpaceLab 2.0 has only just begun its journey. In the coming months, we are prepared to endure 11:00 p.m. work nights, scrutinize mounds of research, conquer seemingly impossible obstacles—all to accomplish our mission. Currently, we are starting to build our experimental capsule and are extremely excited to see our preparation and planning for the past couple of months pay off.
Truly a rare privilege, the task we have been offered is one that will inspire fellow students to pursue space research and shoot for the stars, and we cannot thank the SAS foundation enough for making it all possible.
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