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China

CSUN President, Dr. Dianne F. Harrison, poses with students from Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School during a meeting for the 2013 U.S. – China Space Science Education Project in University Hall on Sept. 10, 2013. Photo credit: Trevor Stamp / Daily Sundial

>>>CORRECTION: This story incorrectly identified the College of Science and Mathematics as the College of Science and Technology. It was the office of President Dianne Harrison and the CSUN China Institute that held the honors ceremony. In addition, President Dianne Harrison will be attending the 60th anniversary of NUST, not the 20th.

CSUN’s College of Science and Technology hosted an honors ceremony Tuesday afternoon to congratulate two middle schools for winning the 2013 China Space Science Education Project.

This is the first year that the China Space Science Education Project will take effect. This program allows students from the United States to propose and create science projects to accompany astronauts on a Chinese space shuttle. The program was created to encourage middle school and high school students to think creatively and independently about science, and to expound their thinking as it relates to space.

“This project will enhance science education and will promote friendships and mutual learning from both nations,” said Dr. Steve Oppenheimer, CSUN biology professor and reviewer of the proposals. Oppenheimer said that the US will be in good hands as long as the country continues to groom its future scientists.

“The next generation of scientists will keep this country strong,” he said.

CSUN collaborated with its Chinese sister school, Nanjing University of Science and Technology (NUST), to bring this project to fruition. President Dianne Harrison and NUST President Xiaofeng Wang began collaborating about the proposed idea last Fall 2012. But it wasn’t until April of this year that fliers were distributed to middle school and high school science teachers alerting them of this opportunity.

Though CSUN received more than 150 proposals from high schools and middle schools throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Holmes Middle School and Portola Middle School were the two schools from which the project finalists were selected.

The proposal winners from Holmes Middle School worked in a group to complete their project. The seven girls, both sixth and seventh graders, developed their project around the following question: When sent into space, will jalapeno pepper seeds have a higher or lower germination rate compared to seeds that are not sent into space?

The students proposed that the germination rate would be lower because of the “exposure to radiation and microgravity,” according to their hypothesis.

Diana Sanchez, 13, said the seven girls on her team chose to test the germination of jalapeno pepper seeds because “they’re spicy and can be tasted in space.”

“Astronauts’ sense of smell is lowered in space, so they’re able to taste the jalapeno pepper seeds [easier],” said Sanchez. “The seeds are healthy too so there is also a benefit.”

The proposal winner from Portola Middle School composed her space science project with the help of her science teacher Stacy Tanaka.

“We found out through [Oppenheimer] about the project and we thought that was fantastic because the students love space, it’s like their number one topic in science,” said Tanaka. “The most [uninterested] student’s face will brighten when we talk about space and astronauts.”

Johana Cruz Lopez, sixth grade, wrote her hypothesis on the effects space will have on boiling water.

“Astronauts should boil water in space because we do not know what will happen to the water due to the absence of gravity,” Lopez’s proposal read. “On Earth, water vapor rises as the water is boiled, but in the absence of gravity what will happen?”

Tanaka said that she was fighting back tears as Lopez presented her winning proposal to a room full of more than 30 people.

“I don’t have kids, but I imagine if I had a kid that’s how it would feel whenever they did something fantastic,” Tanaka said. “I was holding in my tears and telling myself not to cry so that [Johana] doesn’t think she did something wrong.”

Harrison congratulated the winners from both schools before stepping aside and allowing CSUN China Institute Director Justine Su to distribute the certificates of achievement and gifts to the winners, their teachers, and the school principals.

“I will say a couple of things. First of all congratulations again to all of you, I know how proud you must be to be here. I think it is very interesting that all of the winners are women.  I think that we need more women in science, in engineering, in technology, [and] in math so stay with it please and keep up the good work,” she said.

Though this is the first year CSUN is participating in the China Space Science Education Project, it is not the first time a project like this has been executed in the U.S.

During the 1980s, NASA sponsored a program for high school students allowing them to design an experiment that would accompany the astronauts and be flown on space shuttles. NASA proposed this project to China and recommended they participate. In 1986 and 1987, the U.S. selected four out of 21,000 proposals from high school students in China. It was in 2012 that the American Space Shuttle project sponsored through NASA came to an end.

President Harrison will be taking the two proposals with her to China next week, where she will be visiting NUST for their 20th anniversary.

Harrison will present the proposals to Wang, the president of NUST, on behalf of the LAUSD school systems, and Wang will then submit the projects to the China Space Agency.  It will then be determined by the space agency if the U.S. experiments are suitable for launch. The agency will ensure that the experiments meet all of their shuttle requirements.

“I think that while the process of having your experiment being done in space is really quite fascinating and interesting, what is most important is science education,” said Harrison.  “Sixth and seventh grade is exactly the age where you want to be getting interested in science and asking and answering questions.”