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Potter-Dix, Neb.
Four students prepare wheat for an experiment

Students Brandon, Dustin, Bailey and Connor prepare wheat for an experiment on Earth parallel to that on space shuttle Atlantis. Image Credit: SSEP

Experiment: Effects of Microgravity on Goodstreak Wheat

Students in grades 5-12 at Potter-Dix schools in Nebraska were excited to participate in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. SSEP provided an opportunity for students to take part in a minds-on, hands-on real science experiment destined for space.

Fifty-four energetic students in grades 5-12 designed the experiment selected for flight, which is to assess the effects of microgravity on Goodstreak wheat. Wheat, an important crop in Nebraska, has sustained family farms in the state for generations and met consumers' needs across the globe.

David Baltensperger, Ph.D., head of Texas A & M University's Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and Joe Larson, soil conservationist at Nebraska Natural Resources Conservation Science, assisted students with choosing the type of wheat to use in the experiment. Goodstreak (Triticum aestivum L) is a hard red winter wheat developed cooperatively by the Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service.

The students challenged themselves to think about the development of seeds in microgravity. The small size of the experiment test tubes that would contain the wheat and water surprised the students, and the term "mini-lab" took on a whole new meaning. Teams of students, led by seniors, brainstormed research questions. Refinement of their thinking led to the research project chosen to fly on space shuttle Atlantis. Peer review feedback helped students scrutinize their work and improved the experiment.

Participating in SSEP has provided students in a small rural Nebraska community with an opportunity to hone their science and mathematics skills. These students are proud to be part of a legacy of scientists from Potter-Dix.

Kevin Thomas and Jo Wells: Potter-Dix Schools
Rebecca Dorfmueller: NASA Educational Technology Services