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Lincoln, Neb.
A student prepares a streak plate

Kyle, a student from Lincoln, Neb., prepares a streak plate of Chlamydomonas at the Science Focus Program. Image Credit: SSEP

Experiment: The Effects of Microgravity on Oil Production in Salt-stressed Chlamydomonas reinhardtii

Almost 20 years ago, Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska decided to do something different and developed four focus programs for high school students. These small community-based schools place particular emphasis on one area of study. Lincoln currently has focus programs in science, arts and humanities, entrepreneurship, and information technology.

Above and beyond their focus, these schools were designed to promote critical thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit within the student body. It is not surprising, then, that the students in the Science Focus Program jumped at the chance to place an experiment on board the final space shuttle flight by participating in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. However, rather than keep this opportunity to themselves, the students agreed that every student in Lincoln should be given a chance to participate, including students in all public, parochial and home schools.

The winners, Isaac and Kyle, are no strangers to research. They are the student leaders who encouraged the development of this competition for all of Lincoln. For the last two years, Isaac has been working with Chlamydomonas algae to produce biofuel from the oils algae naturally produce. With some invaluable advice from researchers at the University of Nebraska, Isaac and Kyle were able to develop a research question that tied into their previous work and took advantage of the unique opportunity of being on the shuttle.

Lincoln's experiment in "something different" is giving students a rare opportunity to represent their community, collaborate with experts, and participate in an authentic and historic scientific endeavor.

Jon Pedersen: University of Nebraska -- Lincoln
Mark James: Lincoln Public Schools
Rebecca Dorfmueller: NASA Educational Technology Services